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23rd July 2008

Dispelling the myths of modular construction By Robin Mysell, Managing Director of Premier Interlink (Waco UK Ltd).

Dispelling the myths of modular construction

By Robin Mysell, Managing Director of Premier Interlink (Waco UK Ltd).

Article published in Civic & Public Building - June 08 edition

The new generation of steel framed, off-site constructed modular buildings have come a long way from the timber framed temporary buildings that many people still associate with this construction method. Not only are modern steel frame modular buildings designed to meet all current relevant building legislation, but in many cases they far exceed the required standards. This guiding principle of excellence and quality has also been applied to reducing a modular building’s impact on the environment.


Market leading off-site construction companies are now investing heavily in state-of-the-art technology and practices and using research and technology to deliver innovation, technical expertise and fully compliant buildings which also take advantage of environmental advances and requirements. Many of these features result in lower maintenance costs and significantly lower whole life costs as the building are far more energy efficient. High specification insulation and heat retaining windows and glass have a low environmental impact and significantly reduce heating and cooling costs. An additional benefit of all this incredibly energy efficient insulation is the enhanced acoustic performance of the buildings which only adds to the comfort levels of the occupants.


Alternative energy sources such as solar or wind power and rainwater recycling systems can be easily be incorporated within the structure to further reduce the carbon footprint of what are already incredibly environmentally friendly buildings.


Modular building can be constructed using materials from sustainable resources which allow for full recycling and re-utilisation of all the elements of the building, unlike the debris from demolished conventional buildings which end up in landfill sites. Clients looking to increase their BREEAM rating can be confident that modular buildings can achieve these aims.


Many modular building systems also recognise the need for the installation of complex data and telecoms networks by incorporating integral conduiting systems within the steel frame structure with cable routes located every 300 mm within the walls, both vertically and horizontally. This dispenses with the need for visible surface cable conduits, simplifying cable management and reducing installation costs for services such as telecoms, networks and cabling.


The steel structure makes them extremely robust with exceptionally long lifespans which could exceed 100 years, supported by product and structural warranties that confirm the quality and life expectancy of the building.


The different external finishes available allow modular buildings to blend in with surrounding structures, or make a better aesthetic impact. External wall finishes can be pre-finished steel, traditional brick, brick slip, cedar or cladding or a combination of one or more of these. In many case it can often be difficult to identify a modular building as they can be completely indistinguishable from conventionally built structures - both inside and out. Internal fitting out can be of the highest quality with spiral staircases, lifts, floor to ceiling glazing and atriums being just a few of the options available.


Installing a modular building is easy, quick and causes much less site disruption and can be ready for occupation in a fraction of the time required for a conventional building. The costs and time-frames are much more manageable and building off-site ensures a factory controlled quality of finishes and accuracy of construction.


In early 2008, Westfield Shopping Towns had a requirement for site offices and welfare buildings to be used by 250 office staff and 2,500 site operatives. This building will be on site for 3 1/2 years while they are constructing the largest shopping centre in Europe at Stratford, in time for the 2012 London Olympics. Their need was for a fully compliant, comfortable and spacious offices and a high standard of fitting out. They chose steel framed, off-site modular construction route which gave them 7,500m2 of 3-storey building which was erected in just 19 days, fully fitted out and ready for occupation in just 7 weeks.


The benefits of modular building systems also makes them an ideal solution for temporary situations ie., hospitals, schools and site offices while other building work is ongoing. At any time, both permanent or temporary buildings can be extended, re-located and re-configured and extra buildings can be bought or temporary buildings hired to give full flexibility to future needs.


However, the robust and permanent structure of the steel frame system, the ability to build multi-storey buildings using standard modules, the extended structural and product warranties, and the long life expectancy, increasingly make modular buildings the cost-effective option.


Modular building systems have finally come of age and because they are inherently more economical to maintain, environmentally friendly and sustainable and are fast becoming a preferred construction method for many construction, local authority and commercial applications.

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