posted: 3rd Apr 2008
Originally seen as a temporary solution, the modular and portable building industry has evolved to offer high quality and reliable constructions to rival permanent buildings.
Those familiar with the modular and portable building industry will recall that the buildings were originally seen as ‘temporary’. The original concept was basic, cheap and cheerful, like site huts associated with construction sites.
The good news is that modular construction projects are becoming more common, as the market needs and perceptions are changing. The driving factor of this trend has been the dawning realisation that modular construction does not necessarily result in buildings of a temporary nature.
Today’s modular buildings are constructed to extremely high standards, in factory-controlled conditions. Most are steel framed and have a design life of 50 years and in some cases could even outlive some permanent buildings constructed in traditional materials.
Clients are becoming increasingly aware of this. The question is, why pay more, when you can have a cost effective modular building in a shorter time scale? The quality is as high and it will last as long. And because the buildings are no longer seen as a temporary, stopgap measure, more has been invested in their design.
With the vast choice of cladding for modular construction, which ironically is a traditional brick wall, there is not only the choice to be permanent but to also look traditional.
Planners too are becoming more aware of how flexible modular buildings can be when it comes to aesthetics and are also playing their part in raising the standards of external appearance.
New buildings, for example, can now have pitched, tiled roof, brick walls with brickwork style that is sympathetic to the original structure or structures in the required area. This could apply to offices, schools, hospitals – the list is limitless. Again with the suppliers appreciating this need, the industry is now in a position to provide windows and doors to match.
Economies of Scale
Economies of scale also plays a part in the benefits generated by assembly line production passed on to the client; as a general rule modular construction is sold on the basis that customers can have their buildings quicker than if they are provided by a standard building contractor.
But there is another use for those economies of scale, and that is to use them to upgrade the design and specification of the building concerned. So when faced with a budget, instead of undercutting it, on some projects it pays to invest every penny in a building of outstanding quality and design.
It is noticeable how over the years, the modular and portable building industry has played an active role in the education sector. With the government drive to invest in these areas, the industry looks to play a large part in contributing towards the changing requirements. The following case study demonstrates how the industry has moved forward and how modular buildings can benefit the education sector.
London South Bank University
The Students’ Union at London South Bank University (LSBU) is always busy. It serves 20,000 students who come from a wide range of backgrounds that are as diverse as London’s population has always been. So, when it became necessary to relocate the Students’ Union (SU) for two years, at short notice, the hunt was on for a rapid accommodation solution. The successful design would have to be completed as quickly as possible and facilitate the University’s extensive re- development plans. The SU is an organisation with a large financial turnover so there could be no disturbance to the vast array of campus functions it accommodates, not least the housing of the essential social aspects of campus life.
Fast Track Solution
With ten construction companies pitching for the business, it rapidly became apparent to the University that the solution could only be met by a modular construction method if the tight timescale was to be met.
An MPBA member won the contract with a design that would meet the University’s budget parameters and time scale, as well as the SU’s requirement for a multi-functional building.
The design had to meet the needs and requirements of the SU’s many clubs and societies, and house the offices for the elected officers and managerial and administrative staff. The building would also be used by some outside organisations that use the facilities and generate additional revenue for the SU.
To meet all these requirements the University agreed a two-storey, 1,100 square metre design which includes offices, meeting rooms and a radio station studio on the first floor. The ground floor has a reception area and a 370 square metre multi-functional hall, flanked by a café, bar and stage area. The hall can be split using large folding doors, allowing the ground floor to cater for two simultaneous functions. The doors also create an alcohol free area that was a prerequisite of the design as the SU wished to cater for all users.
Outwardly the design had to satisfy the LSBU’s long-term objectives to influence the public perception of the University through the quality of its buildings. To achieve this, the University has identified a menu of projects that will involve the radical renovation of existing accommodation, create new buildings, and significantly improve public thoroughfares that permeate the campus. Central to the plan is to bring all the faculties closer to the centre of the campus, whilst creating open spaces that will give the Elephant & Castle campus permeability and visibility. The new Students’ Union building is at the hub of all this activity.
Mike Hogg, the SU’s general manager commented: “We have had very positive feedback from the students and the many outside bodies that hire the centre. Everyone says the same – it doesn’t look like a prefabricated building. “It has been designed to a high specification and we are very pleased with the end result.”
Local government specifiers are increasingly turning to factory built, modular construction for developing existing as well as green-field school sites. Not only can great savings be made in construction costs and site development times reduced, but also the steel framed buildings look just as pleasing and are equally as robust as those that are built using traditional building techniques.
Article by Jackie Maginnis, published by Education Business