Modular & Airspace

A struggling housing market coupled with an increased scarcity in labour availability has seen interest and investment in modular construction methods soar over the past 12 months. The ability to fast-track projects by reducing the number of man-hours required on-site, combined with the better quality control that comes from a factory setting has captured the attention of the Irish Architecture, Engineering and Construction sector.

When properly considered and designed modular construction can be a faster and more efficient way to deliver construction projects. C+W O’Brien Architects are positioned at the forefront of modular design in Ireland. We  are eager to increase this type of construction to avail of the many benefits that can help maximise the potential of a development site by delivering the most appropriate product and construction methods.

Breakdown of a development by modular apartment type

Modular explained

Modular construction is a method of construction where the building or components of it are constructed off-site in a factory setting using the efficiency that comes with production lines. There are many different types of modular construction which are explored in more detail below. Modular construction is experiencing a boom, particularly in projects such as residential, hotels and student housing where units are often relatively similar and repeatable.

Modular construction varies in type and complexity, ranging from 2D, to 3D and hybrid systems.

2D or panelised systems involve modular components that often arrive flat-packed to be assembled on-site. They are easy to transport and customise, while also improving on traditional construction times.

3D or volumetric systems are containerised units that are manufactured off-site, and installed as a unit on-site. They are usually 80%+ finished when they leave the factory. Common volumetric units include bathroom, hotel room and apartment Pods.

Hybrid systems involve a combination of 2D and 3D elements.

Off-site or modular construction provides huge opportunities for improving the productivity and efficiency of the construction industry. Some of the most significant gains from modular construction are in waste reduction, labour costs, and schedule reduction.

One of the most reliable benefits of modular construction is the acceleration of the project timeframe. The McKinsey report (2019) outlines that modular construction consistently results in projects being completed 20-50% faster. Earlier completion dates allow developers and investors to generated financial gains from the project earlier.

Waste Reduction
Waste can be significantly reduced using modular construction methods. As units or components are manufactured in a factory-like setting off-site, there is a reduction in waste resulting from poor weather conditions, and standardisation can also reduce an excess of materials and a reduction of any onerous rework required.

Labour Force
While traditional construction relies on a number of specialist, skilled workers, whose training is time-intensive, modular construction can attract and develop unskilled workers, and aren’t reliant on skilled tradespeople. This provides developers with a means to overcome skills shortages.

Health & Safety
By removing the majority of work from the building site, modular construction boasts health and safety benefits. Standardised, controlled manufacturing removes the hazards resulting from onsite construction while protecting against seasonal dangers.

Sustainability & Environmentally Friendly
Modular construction can provide a more sustainable alternative to traditional builds. Offsite construction can reduce waste by up to 90%, and usually use less energy in their production (up to 67%). Furthermore, modular buildings can be produced using recycled materials, and can themselves be reusable.

Modular buildings undergo intense quality control and certification processes in a factory setting prior to their transport to site. This method of construction has been developed over the past number of decades, however, use has been limited to temporary or high-value projects. Decreases in costs and an increase in rental based products have led to an increase in demand. For Modular to have success in the larger market, the certification process is a key element to modular’s successful delivery. Every modular system is tested to ensure they achieve the relevant fire, acoustic, structural requirements and regulatory requirements. They are inspected by a number of third parties and design members.

C+W O’Brien Architects have been engaged in testing and certification of modular components including CE test certification for a number of modular systems we designed and coordinated. Components for testing were constructed and rigorously tested in Belfast & France with additional inspections carried out by the Dublin Fire Brigade.

Under the manufacturers quality control systems, the modules are continuously inspected from start to finish within a factory setting. This ensures a high standard of quality and finish. The regular inspections also serve to uphold the relevant certification standards.

We are currently working on over 25 modular projects across the public and private sector.

Over the last number of months, C+W O’Brien Architects have visited numerous manufacturing facilities in Ireland, the UK, Europe and China to assess the capabilities and quality control standards. In addition, we have visited many modular projects on-site to develop an in-depth knowledge of all aspects of the delivery process. We will continue to do this to ensure that we are up to date with all the developments in the sector.

Airspace is a relatively new concept in the Irish property development market. It refers to the creation of new properties using the “airspace” above existing buildings. The extra space is generated by adding additional storeys on to the top.

This innovative approach facilitates the creation of new homes and commercial spaces in attractive areas without space for traditional builds. Embracing “airspace” development allows developers to build upward, with minimal disruption to the local communities.

Often paired with offsite and modular construction, airspace development provides an efficient, sustainable, high-quality option for maximising city space. Along with providing more real-estate, airspace development can add substantial value to a property. At C+W O’Brien we are at the cutting edge of airspace development in Ireland, and would be delighted to discuss the potential of airspace development with you.

Have a modular project you would like to discuss? Get in touch today.