From Where to Where for Modular Construction?

Phil Gardiner
Managing Director
Irwinconsult, Melbourne

Like most modern forms of construction, modular has been around for longer than we think. Modular homes were shipped from England by the Bell Company to Melbourne and California in the mid-19th century. Modular precast building systems were in use in the 1920s. The Knitlock system developed by Walter and Marion Mahoney Griffin, disciples of Frank Lloyd Wright, was used for a number of residences in Melbourne. These filled a market need during times of labor and housing shortages in rapidly growing communities.

Modular housing based on shipping-container technologies emerged in the early 2000s. This led to a rapid expansion of suppliers of similar but unique product, mainly volumetric, although the industry also developed flat-pack systems (such as that by Broad Group). Terms such as “Design for Manufacture and Assembly” (DFMA) and “Lean Construction” became part of the vocabulary as the advanced manufacturing concepts typical of the automotive and similar industries were introduced to mass-produced building construction.

More recent years have seen tall modular buildings delivered and a move to more flat-pack and less volumetric use in developed cities for most projects. There are also efforts to introduce timber, our “new” building material, into the modular space.

So what is perceived as the future for modular, and how will robotic technologies and 3D printing affect this and other forms of construction?

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