By: Aaron Neal
The Wolverhampton Development – a student dormitory designed by O’Connell East Architects in 2010 – is one of the tallest modular buildings in the world. This project was the first modular multi-story development that the firm worked on. Formed in 1996 in Manchester England by Paul O’Connell and Gary East, the firm has had a long relationship with the Victoria Hall – the client of the Wolverhampton Development. The office’s first project was another student housing for Victoria Hall in 1996. Along with a student accommodation buildings, the firm has a strong portfolio in residential, education, and office buildings. Since Wolverhampton Development, the office has used off-site construction multiple times “to promote alternative construction solutions which offer wider environmental benefits.”
Coming in at an impressive twenty four stories, the tower showcases that prefabrication does not necessarily need to be limited by size or height. The development was created using 805 embedded steel structural modules that were craned into place over the course of 27 weeks. This accelerated assembly process allowed for the building to be completed one academic year early which was one of the biggest reasons for choosing modular construction. Not only would the reduced construction time lower labor costs, but it would allow the client to start generating revenue one entire year earlier. Originally designed for traditional construction, the building retained its own aesthetic without being overly driven by a modular concept. Most of the changes in the conversion from traditional to modular were structural and planning, not the overall form and look of the building. This concept showcases that the prefabricated nature of a project does not have to drive the overall design as is often the case with modular buildings. Other concepts to be taken from this project, is that prefabrication can be used successfully on a high rise project resulting in benefits such as less waste, a more predictable cost, and quicker occupancy time. The most important concept in regards to this thesis research, is that the building actually changed construction type midway through the project. As this research will compare different construction types used for one particular building, this proves that a smooth transition can occur and that the building can retain its original design and shape.