Friday, April 29, 2016

Modular Construction

By: Aaron Neal

In modern architecture, there are many methods of prefabrication.  Since it is still an evolving field of study, many firms experiment with different approaches and strategies.  Some assembly techniques work well for certain building types and in specific environments while others may differ in their benefits.  Most of these experiments in off-site fabrication occur in the housing market due to their little value.  Houses are cheaper to build, so if the new technique fails, it has little impact whereas it would be unethical to experiment on a large public building.  There have been many designers in the past decade that have chosen to specialize in prefabrication and see its potential.
            The ultimate form of prefabrication would be to complete the building in its entirety before arrival to the site.  Issues arise very quickly when trying to accomplish this task though.  Limitations in size appear to be the biggest issue with this approach.  The building can only be as big as the means of transportation that it takes to arrive on site.  For most cases, this means the size is determined by what fits on a truck.  Usually the width of the unit must be sixteen feet or under to fit within most transportation laws.  With the size limitation being such a strict constraint, these drop in place buildings are usually small retreat shelters or tiny homes.  Studio Aisslinger created one of these drop in place shelters in 2003 labeled as the LoftCube.  The firm began to sell these small cubic shelters to be used in all sorts of locations.  Structurally they were steel frame boxes skinned with fiberglass to create a futuristic look, while being easy to fabricate.  These boxes could be designed to serve multiple functions – retreat houses, viewing cabins, etc.
If dropped in place prefab had limitations with size what then would be the remedy?  Modular construction provides a pretty successful solution.  By splitting the building up into different modules that each fit within the transportation constraints, larger buildings can be constructed.  Many houses are currently being sold as modular units which usually are comprised a couple four to five modules.  These units are craned in place with everything complete except for the exterior façade.  This can drastically reduce the on-site construction time on a project which can be very desirable for housing developments.  There are multiple firms that specialize in modular construction such as Hive Modular, Square Root Architecture, and RES: 4 Architecture.  RES: 4 Architecture breaks down the programmatic spaces of a house into their basic shapes and then uses those building blocks to create custom houses using a modular approach.  This self-titled, “Modern Modular” process works well for the firm which has dozens of completed homes across the United States.  Their first project, the Dwell Home, was created using five modules to create an L shaped house.  The project not only was prefabricated, but it provided a well-designed, site specific home to the client.

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