Collaboration – designing deliverable panelised and modular schemes
With Government support – such as Homes England’s £11.5 billion Accelerated Construction Fund – and the growing interest from large scale developers – as seen with the Legal & General Modular Homes vehicle – the development of the Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) sector is definitely underway. Kumar Muniandy, Studio Director at SGP, looks at the importance of collaboration and understanding between designer and fabricator and the benefits it offers in taking up the opportunities in the growing modular construction sector.
SGP is not a new player in the field when it comes to using modern methods of construction. Working on projects from healthcare to residential and student accommodation, we have developed a strong understanding of the opportunities and practicalities of using panelised and modular systems, not least the vital role of the architect as the conduit between the clients’ needs and the fabricators’ requirements.
In a current mixed-use project using modular design, we have been working with GreenSquareAccord, a progressive housing association with a focus on local community. This close collaboration, including factory visits to advanced housing manufacturer LoCal Homes, has further clarified our appreciation of the strengths and practicalities of modular construction and how it can deliver what the client wants in a quicker, more cost effective and more sustainable way.
LoCal Homes is a wholly owned business as part of GreenSquare Accord and has benefitted from the depth of resource within the parent company in terms of research and development alongside customer feedback. This has supported the development of a high performing closed timber panel with a variety of factory applied external finishes. The panel complies with all fire, thermal, acoustic and air permeability legislation.
LoCal Homes has a Fabric First approach to construction, resulting in the manufacture of highly insulated homes that will meet 2025 Future Homes standards today. The Fabric First approach reduces the reliance on technically advanced and expensive heating systems to meet the Future Homes standards.
Quality assurance is provided through ISO 9001, Structural Timber Association Gold Member and support from LABC / Premier Product Warranty. This ensures the off site manufacture achieves standards far exceeding site based construction.
It removes many of the Health and Safety risks associated with traditional construction methods and reduces the time required on site for construction. Thereby reducing overheads and site costs.
With more modular schemes coming onto site in the UK, there are more and more opportunities for architects to get hands-on experience of dealing with the technical challenges modular construction faces, from standardised formats to contractual issues. By combining complete understanding of what the client wants with the awareness of what modular fabrication can – and can’t – deliver, the architect can become the knowledgeable interface which embeds the modular process from the beginning of the design.
Sometimes a client will specify modular construction right from the start of the scheme, such as in SGP’s project with GreenSquareAccord. More often, the first hurdle is developing a client’s understanding of what off-site construction means, how it meets their requirements and is a practical and robust alternative to standard or traditional construction methods. To do that, the architect must completely understand and trust the process themselves.
There will still be design challenges. If the client wants a panelised or modular building, then the architect should be able – and willing – to rationalise the design to work within modular formats, such as removing large overhangs or curved forms. Our role at SGP is to appreciate the difficulties so we can build the modular process into the design, creating a structure that both meets the client’s brief, such as cost and sustainability, and is 100% buildable once it gets to manufacturer.
At SGP, we believe that the collaborative skills of the architect are vital to making modern methods of construction as accepted and popular as more traditional construction methods. By understanding and applying the strengths and weaknesses of modular building to the client’s brief at design stage, we can smooth out potential technical difficulties and deliver a robust, quality product that can bear comparison to the best that standard construction can produce.