An MMC revolution?

Graham Edward, managing director at Edward Architecture, answers some of the industry’s most pressing questions around modular housing, as the MMC revolution gathers pace.

We are finding that local authorities and housing associations represent the core of the modular client market. This is generated by Government grant funding being aimed at promoting modular construction – there is definitely a modular revolution amongst local authority and housing associations. It will be interesting to see if the pandemic can inspire a market shift in the use of modular in housing more generally. The pandemic has definitely inspired a market shift amongst what the customer wants from their property which includes things like larger gardens, home offices and to be within close proximity to leisure activities etc.

Can modular help tackle the housing crisis?

Modular has obvious advantages in terms of build quality and speed of erection, which is incredibly fast, and means less disturbance to the neighbourhood in terms of noise and length of time onsite.

Most contractors and developers have a limit to their capacity in terms of workforce and materials, and offsite modular construction is a great way to expand this capacity.

Publicity for existing schemes and the Government’s enthusiasm are also accelerating the modular market’s growth. As such, modular housing is seen as a potential solution to the UK’s affordable housing crisis.

What are its sustainability benefits?

Modular construction has several sustainability benefits:

  • Streamlined design and efficient production reduces waste to landfill
  • Producing buildings in a factory setting, the quality of elements such as insulation can be better assured
  • It is easier to control energy use in a factory setting than in an open construction site
  • Reduced time onsite;
  • Increased speed of build meaning fewer plant staff onsite.

The cost of modular construction however still appears to be prohibitive for national housebuilders, though they do see modular as a potential expansion to their construction capacity. Ultimately modular construction has better whole life costs because of the quality of build, high sustainability levels and cost certainty at the early stages of the project and hopefully the UK’s ‘cost led’ construction mentality will soften on this.

Making modular cost-effective, and attractive

The way to make modular cost effective to the mass market is to have repeat modules and standardisation. Modular housing companies are rising to the challenge where external designs on standard modules can be exciting, fun and a great place to live.

An example of this is our scheme for Bromley Council in Chislehurst which is nearing completion and is designed specifically to look as ‘unmodular’ as possible. To do this we have made changes in materials, changes in height and used local materials to create something that is fresh, modern and sits with the local character of the area.

In commercial housebuilding, house prices are led by the market. Whether it’s modular or traditional construction, therefore modular will struggle to become more economical until there is a better understanding of whole life costs. I suspect the local authority and affordable housing markets will drive forward affordable housing in modular.

What role does MMC have in luxury housing?

The key quality to luxury housing is its bespoke design. Modular companies that adapt to bespoke designs will be in the best position for this market.

While module sizes are limited due to transportation restrictions, it is perfectly possible to design large rooms which use two, three or four modules to create exciting spaces to suit the luxury market, and the build quality will be guaranteed.

This market is really exciting for architects such as ourselves that understand modular restrictions and design as our knowledge can help create different and exciting designs that are still technically possible using offsite construction.