PREFABRICATION – it used to be a dirty word associated with low-quality buildings thrown up in a hurry to address Britain’s post-war housing shortage.
These concrete structures were meant to be temporary but frequently their lifespan was extended over the decades and as a result many, if not all, became synonymous with dampness and urban decay.
Correctly referred to as pre-cast reinforced concrete (PRC) houses, they were originally designed to last 10 years but some are still standing even today – a testament to the durability of the materials and design.
The key to success was to find a method of erecting houses quickly, using techniques that had not been tried beforehand. The result was a basic kitchen/bedroom/bathroom structure – known affectionately as a “prefab” – that could be put up in as little as four hours.
Fast forward to the present, and “off-site fabrication” is back in vogue – but not just as a solution to a more modern housing shortage issue in the UK.
It could also address the skills gap that the construction industry could face in a post-Brexit market place as a result of a reduction in the supply of migrant workers.
Prefabrication – the practice of putting together the components of a structure in a factory and transporting these assemblies to the location where the building is to be erected – results in a reduction of the number of people required on-site.
It is distinct from the more conventional practice of transporting the basic materials to the construction site where all assembly and construction is carried out.
Recently a number of Soben’s clients have started doing just this, by considering the use of full modular construction, with pods or units being built on a production line in a factory and then taken to site and fitted together.
Given the scale of the challenges facing the UK construction market, Legal and General plc have taken the bold step of building a huge plant near Leeds, where they will produce modular, defect-free housing.
Also, planners in Croydon, London, have been given the green light for a twin-tower scheme of build-to-rent flats that will become the world’s tallest offsite scheme.
And increasingly, high-rise pre-fabricated buildings made of timber are being developed for a number of commercial and educational uses.
A recent TED Talk by Architect Michael Green provides an interesting approach and overview to the potential of having buildings up to 30 storeys high built in wood.
From the USA to Uruguay, South Africa, Japan and several European countries, including Scotland, prefabricated houses are increasingly being seen as the next trend in stylish living with guilt-free environmental credentials.
Maybe we Quantity Surveyors – frequently and unkindly referred to as “brick counters” – should stop tallying up building blocks and go and hug a few trees instead.