Within the current debate on modern methods of construction (MMC) and its opportunities and constraints in relation to house building, not enough attention is turned to the use of panellised systems, and how it could help MMC find its way into more UK placemaking projects.
First off, there needs to be a more sophisticated understanding of MMC across the industry; one that includes both volumetric and panelised systems of construction – with volumetric referring to entire units being built in factories and panelised referring to individual walls and floors being built offsite, before being erected in situ.
The advantages of full volumetric or modular construction are well documented, with factory manufactured quality control being among the most attractive. The rapid assembly of modules on site also leads to significantly reduced construction programmes and with it reduced preliminary costs.
However, nearly all forms of modular construction are more expensive per m2 than traditional construction and require projects that can drive cost benefits through scale. The knock-on effect when creating new neighbourhoods where market values are not so high can be that the quality of landscaping and public realm is reduced, and materials standardised.
The volumetric system also requires early input from the manufacturer, which can reduce design flexibility further down the line, and mean that repetition is unnecessarily embedded in the architectural approach – an inflexibility that is particularly challenging on constrained urban sites.
At Proctor & Matthews, we have moved to using more advanced forms of recycled steel panelised systems to develop a greater variety of housing. This use of panelised systems allows us to respond to different design contexts and configurations, to create buildings and neighbourhoods with a unique sense of identity and place.
This includes the ability to fit small to medium housing developments into denser, more constrained urban sites, at the same time delivering on sustainability, quality control, onsite safety and speed of assembly.
If we want to deliver sustainable, characterful developments to help meet housing demand, it pays to keep pushing the boundaries, and working together to raise the bar on what can be achieved with MMC.
Georgina Bignold is a director at Proctor & Matthews Architects