Modern methods of construction have long been touted as a solution to the housing crisis, but the concept remains slow to gain ground. But doubts about its potential are misplaced, writes Vicky Saunders of BTP Architects – all it needs is the right approach
IN 2019 the Government set the goal of the UK becoming the world leader in modular building within the next 10 years, even promising the creation of a construction and engineering centre of excellence in the North for modern methods of construction (MCC).
If this is to happen then rapid progress must be made to increase the appetite amongst house builders and provide reassurance on design.
The mammoth housing rebuilding programme after the second world war proves that off-site development can work at scale. And with one in seven people directly hit by the housing crisis last year, solutions are clearly needed to enable housing associations to increase supply.
Yet scepticism remains.
We are familiar with the soundbites of MMC bringing greater cost savings, less waste, cleaner safer sites and shorter construction periods.
But there is a fear that this comes in exchange for quality.
We work with social housing providers across the country who want to build more houses, more economically and to the highest standards.
But they are also focused on place-making and creating communities that are sustainable. They don’t want to be limited in design nor create rows of identikit homes.
So, the million-dollar question remains – how do we make MMC work this time round?
How will we strike the balance between speed and reduced costs, and building quality, attractive homes which create neighbourhoods where people want to live?
What is the magic formula?
Focus on design
Whether it’s traditional, modular or mixed build, the design process is crucial.
When architects are involved at the start of a development, we can create beautiful places that can prove transformative to entire communities.
The housing association, designer and off-site manufacturing (OSM) teams need to work collaboratively.
Procedures need to be put in place to ensure we meet the aspirations for the development, that the whole life cost (including future maintenance and repair costs) is minimised, and that the transition from construction to occupation is smooth.
Delivering on potential
Our view is that MMC can deliver on its potential – if used in the right way.
To achieve successful place-making, a combination of unique landmark houses mixed with a high proportion of MMC homes works, generating a highly considered layout with all the added value of MMC.
This approach is likely to strike the right chord with planners who are also driving quality, especially given the latest revision of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).
Our design methodology has been developed in recent years to maximise the use of Building Information Modelling (BIM), the process for creating and managing information on a construction project across its life cycle.
It enables all team members to work to the same standards, creating value from the combined efforts of people, process and technology.
Once created, the BIM model provides guaranteed production capability for the OSM team.
We also advocate developing and utilising standard templates in housing design. These designs accommodate various construction methods and specifications are ideal for off-site manufacture.
Despite all the potential of MMC, one question still persists: does this method mean that quality is compromised?
As architects, we understand what makes a quality home. Working to the Code for Sustainable Homes and the Home Quality Mark ensures quality no matter the construction method.
Whilst it’s understandable that there may be concerns around quality, we believe that when all parties are working collaboratively, adhering to procedures and using the best processes and technology available, homes built using MMC will be of the highest standard.
It’s clear that what’s key to ensuring the increase in MMC within social housing is successful is collaboration.
Choosing the right partners and working alongside them throughout the project so that knowledge and experience can be shared will be the driver for effectively delivering the projects that are so greatly needed.
Vicky Saunders is managing director of BTP Architects.