Editorial Feature

Why Are Modular Construction Methods Gaining Popularity in Urban Areas?

The challenges of modern urban living have turned the attention of architects and urban planners to alternative solutions that overcome limitations such as cost, space, and construction time. One solution that is gaining popularity amongst certain sectors of the construction industry is modular construction.

Why Are Modular Construction Methods Gaining Popularity in Urban Areas?

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What is Modular Construction?

Most buildings today are constructed on-site, using vast amounts of resources and labor to provide housing stock and commercial floor space for urban residents. The problems with modern construction methods are well documented, as well: the environmental impact and sustainability of the world’s growing urban areas have turned the attention of experts to alternative methods.

Modular construction differs from conventional building methods, with units built off-site and delivered, with minimal resources, time, and labor committed once these structures arrive at their final destination. Modular structures are designed to the same standards as other building types, and they can be used for a variety of purposes.

There are two main types of modular buildings: permanent and relocatable. Permanent modular buildings are intended to be used over a long time in a single location, whilst relocatable buildings are, as the name suggests, able to be moved according to their needs.

Permanent modular buildings are used as residential or commercial structures, whilst relocatable types are used for purposes such as construction site offices and medical facilities. Many relocatable modular medical facilities were used during the Covid 19 pandemic as vaccination sites, for instance, taking advantage of the benefits modular construction brings.

Modular buildings usually consist of two or more units that are assembled on-site, differing from portable buildings, which are delivered as a single, discrete unit. Modular buildings are extremely customizable and can be used in a huge range of building projects, including housing, commercial units, and office buildings.

What are the Benefits of Modular Construction for Urban Living?

Urban planning is an incredibly complex undertaking for architects and planners. Along with an explosion in global population, metropolitan areas, cities, and towns have grown exponentially over the past century or two. Today, over half the world’s population – around four billion people – live in cities.

Aside from pressing environmental issues such as pollution, carbon emissions, and threats to the natural world and biodiversity that this growth has caused, urban population centers possess unique challenges for city planners and architects.

Space is at a premium in cities. Noise ordinances and other regulations restrict the amount of disruption that can be caused to a construction site’s neighbors. Construction projects need to be completed in a certain amount of time, avoiding cost overruns and disruption.

On a building site, there are a lot of workers covering a wide variety of trades, budgets must be strictly adhered to, and the delivery of construction materials and equipment can cause logistical challenges. The challenges are seemingly endless.

Modular construction solves many of these issues. In the construction industry, time is money: constructing a building offsite from several ready-made, discrete units and assembling it onsite significantly saves time, resources, labor, and costs.

According to some estimates, modular construction can save as much as half the time needed to build a structure. There is less need for heavy equipment onsite, reducing rental costs. Fewer workers are needed as well, and the entire process can be streamlined.

Depending on the size of the project, construction can be completed in a matter of weeks or even days, leading to minimal disruption and site preparation time. Off-site construction means fewer materials and equipment are stored onsite, and sites can be much smaller.

Furthermore, as modular units are constructed off-site in a factory, quality control is assured: structures are checked and approved before they are delivered to the customer. Additionally, less heavy equipment onsite and reduced project time also significantly improve the carbon footprint of modular buildings compared to their conventional counterparts.

The Affordable Housing Crisis: A Modular Solution?

Another key issue in the 21st Century is that of housing affordability, especially in cities. There is a critical lack of high quality, affordable housing stock available to urban residents, which exacerbates social ills and is significantly contributing to the current cost of living crisis in many areas of the world.

Whilst many politicians across the world have made affordable housing part of their campaign pledges before office and once in government, progress on providing affordable housing in cities such as London and New York is achingly slow.

Modular housing offers a much cheaper alternative than traditional construction, which requires massive amounts of labor, equipment, materials, time, and resources, all of which cost money, which is passed onto the end customer in order to maintain the profitability of construction projects.

There is historical precedence for utilizing the benefits of modular construction to solve the affordable housing crisis. After the Second World War, modular buildings (also known as “prefab” housing) were used extensively in the UK to replace housing destroyed or damaged by enemy action.

One US state that is attempting to address its housing problem by using modular housing is Utah. S.B 168, a bill sponsored by Utah Republican Senator Lincoln Fillmore seeks to make it easier to build modular units in Utah’s cities, outlining a statewide building code. The bill does not limit the legislative purview of cities, unlike some other proposals to provide affordable housing in the state.

In Summary

Modular construction is a potential solution to many of the problems faced by urban planners and architects today. While still not a commonplace sight in many cities, its popularity is growing, providing benefits such as time, cost, and labor savings and reduced carbon emissions, which could see it become a more standardized construction method in the coming years.

Moreover, one of the key advantages of modular construction is its potential to help solve the affordable housing crisis in many urban areas, as evidenced by political bills such as S.B 168 in Utah, showing how this nascent industry can help meet the needs of urban planners and governments.

More from AZoBuild: Can You Create a Biodegradable Building?

References and Further Reading 

McKellar, K (2024) Could modular, factory-built homes help Utah’s housing crisis? [online] News From the States. Available at:

https://www.newsfromthestates.com/article/could-modular-factory-built-homes-help-utahs-housing-crisis

JCPSA (2022) What is Modular Building Construction? [online] jcpsa.co.uk. Available at:

https://www.jcpsa.co.uk/news/what-is-modular-construction

Zekelman, S (2018) Why modular is ideal for urban areas [online] Z Modular. Available at:

https://www.z-modular.com/articles/why-modular-is-ideal-for-urban-are

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author expressed in their private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited T/A AZoNetwork the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and conditions of use of this website.

Reginald Davey

Written by

Reginald Davey

Reg Davey is a freelance copywriter and editor based in Nottingham in the United Kingdom. Writing for AZoNetwork represents the coming together of various interests and fields he has been interested and involved in over the years, including Microbiology, Biomedical Sciences, and Environmental Science.

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