Press Release – New thinking needed if modular construction is to increase London’s housing delivery

Wednesday 10 October 2018

PLACE Ladywell © Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners

Research by New London Architecture (NLA) calls for a ‘Modular Mindset’ to revolutionise the way housing is planned, procured, designed and built to accelerate the delivery of high-quality, affordable and sustainable homes for London’s citizens, now and in the future.

Moving construction from the site to the factory environment is not just a case of tweaking existing processes or adapting current models, says the report. Using factory methods to design and build new homes at scale requires a complete rethink of established attitudes to commissioning, planning, procurement, finance, design and construction. 

Factory-Made Housing: a solution for London? is a major research paper, exhibition and events programme, examining the impact of factory methods on the future of housing delivery in London. The research, informed by interviews with leading professionals at the forefront of delivering factory-made housing, shows the potential for these construction methods to make a positive contribution to London’s housing needs – highlighting the range of manufactured systems available today and the opportunities that digital techniques and processes can offer. 

Adopting new technologies is not just a matter of innovation in materials and construction methods but open communication, transparency of data and information sharing, and a challenge to established beliefs about responsibility for delivery and risk. A collaborative stance based on long-term partnerships and agreements – breaking down the barriers between disciplines – rather than an adversarial, competitive, short-term outlook will improve quality, add value and reduce risks. Manufacturing high-quality repeatable components and units demands a system-based approach that focuses on continuous improvement through the cycle of assessment, prototyping, analysis, fabrication and installation. 

Peter Murray, Chairman of NLA, said: “Factory-made homes are advocated by Government and Mayoral policies to speed up housing delivery in London and across the UK. But we must be mindful that the same level of consideration is given to design, place-making, amenity, infrastructure and public realm. We must not repeat the mistakes of the 1960s.” 

Graeme Craig, Director of Commercial Development at Transport for London, said: “London desperately needs affordable housing and it’s vital that the industry considers fresh and creative approaches to tackle the challenge head-on. To provide these homes we need to unlock complex, challenging sites, sometimes impossible to deliver using conventional methods of construction. We’re working with a range of partners, including EVA Studio and Apartments for London, to develop innovative solutions that will help to overcome some of the barriers traditionally faced, and support the Mayor in delivering more affordable homes across the capital at pace.” 

Key benefits of factory-made housing, according to the NLA research, are: 

- Speed of delivery – 30 to 70 per cent quicker than traditional construction methods 
- Higher quality – due to controlled production 
- Reduced transportation and community impact – less noise, pollution and deliveries 
- Flexible and diverse – a solution for almost every site and scale of project 
- More environmentally friendly – improved energy efficiency, using certified timber projects 
- Less affected by the shortage of skilled labour in the construction industry – improving the view of construction and attracting a younger, more diverse workforce 
- Small, restricted sites can be used – offering reduced impacts of noise, vehicle movements and flexibility for building on irregular plots 

David Jones, Modular Integration Director at Legal and General said: “There is a lot of talk about embracing ‘modern methods of construction’, but I don’t think that policymakers are strict enough in terms of indicating exactly what this means in terms of percentage of manufactured elements – we need more clarity.” 

Jonathan Falkingham, co-founder and creative director at Urban Splash, argues that for this reason government should intervene in large-scale developments. He said: “The current highly risk-averse procurement process for public land heavily favours the larger housebuilders – smaller housebuilders simply don’t have the required balance sheets – opening up land to more housebuilders would deliver greater variety in housing typologies, higher market penetration and speedier delivery.” 

The NLA research is available to download for free here. Findings are now on display as part of an exhibition at NLA’s central-London gallery and will include the MultiPly installation from the American Hardwood Export Council, Arup and Waugh Thistleton Architects – originally built for the London Design Festival and exhibited at the V&A. It will be on show outside NLA’s galleries at The Building Centre from 6-22 October 2018. 

The full NLA exhibition will run until 18 January 2019 and is supported by an events programme, including talks from: James Murray, Deputy Mayor for Housing and Residential Development; Mark Farmer, Founding Director and Chief Executive Officer, Cast; Seema Mistry, Design and Technical Manager, Apartments for London and Jennifer Peters, Head of the London Plan, Greater London Authority. 

CASE STUDIES 

Watts Grove, Tower Hamlets 
Status: Starting on site 
Date of completion: July 2019 
Size: 6,227 sqm 
Number of units: 65
Design by Waugh Thistleton Architects for Swan Housing Association 

Watts Grove will provide 65 shared ownership and affordable rented apartments on the site of a former electrical substation in Tower Hamlets. Using precision engineering, the homes will be made from sustainably forested Cross Laminated Timber. Assembled and fitted out in the factory, the modules will be delivered to site complete with kitchens, bathrooms and windows, leaving the onsite team to add the external cladding and connect the modular homes to services.

Geoff Pearce, Executive Director of Regeneration and Development, Swan Housing Association, said: “We are delivering on our ambitions to bring much needed affordable homes to London. By using our new offsite modular housing factory, we will build modern, high quality, 100 per cent affordable homes faster, more sustainably and with less disruption to residents. Modular construction has unlocked this long vacant site, setting a new standard for affordable housing in London and allowed us to develop the UK’s first ever mid-rise CLT modular scheme.” 

Plot NO8, East Village
Status: Under construction 
Cost: £191m 
Size: 51,000 sqm 
Number of units: 481
Designed by Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands with contractors Mace 

NO8 is the first new phase of homes to be built in Stratford, following the 2012 Olympic Games. Contractors Mace’s approach came in the shape of the UK’s first rising factory, a six-story structure built around the tower, creating an indoor construction site. 98 per cent of the superstructure was prefabricated. The towers were built without tower cranes, instead using a climbing mechanism that allows the team to entirely complete a floor a week, resulting in a much quieter and considerate site, and reduced safety risks by eliminating working externally at height. 

South Harrow Place 
Status: Design stage 
Cost: £11.5 m 
Size: 3680 sqm 
Number of units: 41 
Design by: EVA Studio 

Transport for London has been tasked with an ambitious programme for housing delivery: by March 2021, they will have started on sites which will deliver 10,000 new homes. To provide the homes that London needs, they will unlock complex, challenging sites, sometimes impossible to deliver using conventional methods of construction. 

Derek Wilson, Senior Sustainable Development Manager, Transport for London Property Development, said: “This design by EVA Studio represents a fresh approach – one that tackles the site’s unique constraints by applying modern methods of construction to the London design context. The concept makes clear that modern methods of construction are not incompatible with creativity in architecture; indeed, it can provide new and novel design solutions to longstanding barriers to housing delivery. We are delighted with the team’s concept, which we hope will inspire further innovation across the industry.” 

Croydon Infill 
Status: Under construction 
Date of completion: October 2019 
Cost: £9.4m (all sites) 
Size: 600-1500 sqm (sites vary) 
Number units: 9-19 units (sites vary)
Designed by Stitch Architects for Brick by Brick 

A key aim of the Croydon Infill project was to leverage the scale of development across the programme to introduce offsite manufacturing benefits to small individual sites. The sites are of differing size, presenting the challenge of coupling unique design solutions on the difficult sites with the intrinsic benefits of offsite construction. The Croydon Smaller Sites programme demonstrates small infill developments can make a meaningful contribution to the delivery of housing in London, in addition large regeneration schemes. The projects show that pre-fabricated timber panel systems are a viable means of bringing the benefits of offsite manufacturing to small constrained sites which are inevitably low rise and difficult to develop. 

Chloë Phelps, Head of Design, Brick by Brick said: “The key challenge was to make the smaller sites viable and deliverable while maintaining the individual characters and the design quality we aspired to. A detailed study of offsite construction methods across our programme found the most deliverable form to be panelised timber frame. It allows efficiencies to the schemes within the concealed fabric, and was a technology that most contractors can work with, allowing us to competitively tender the project.” 

PLACE / Ladywell, Lewisham 
Status: Completed 
Date of completion: September 2016 
Cost: £1200 per sqm 
Size: 2990 sqm 
Number of units: 64 
Designed by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners with AECOM, for LB Lewisham 

The 24 two-bedroom apartments for families in temporary accommodation, and four ground-floor non-residential units for community and business use, were manufactured from standard timber components, and constructed as 64 fully fitted-out units - complete with bathroom, kitchen, flooring and interior finishes – in a factory in Nottinghamshire. Each unit took approximately one month to be completed in the factory, and the construction team could install a full floor (16 units) in a single week. PLACE / Ladywell will remain on site while a wider masterplan for the area is agreed and implemented. After this time, the scheme can be redeployed on other Council sites up to five times and with a design life of up to 60 years. It is a permanent solution for a temporary location. 

Damien Egan, Mayor of Lewisham, said: “We are very proud of Lewisham’s award-winning pop-up village for homeless families, PLACE / Ladywell, which provides vital homes for local families in desperate need. The design helped us build these much-needed homes quickly and cost efficiently. We are pleased to be working with Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, in collaboration with AECOM, on three further projects.” 

The research forms part of the NLA’s year-round Housing programme, with Programme Champions: Access Self Storage, Argent Related, GL Hearn, Swan Housing, Waugh Thistleton Architects and Programme Supporters: AECOM, American Hardwood Export Council, bptw partnership, Pocket Living, Pollard Thomas Edwards and Wicona. 

For more information, interview requests or images, please contact Merry Arnold

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Factory-made Housing Events Programme

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This three-month programme of events taking place for the duration of the 'Factory-made Housing' exhibition further explores key themes, forming a core part of the NLA Housing programme.

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Factory-made Housing: a solution for London?

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With the current big push on factory-made housing, what opportunities and challenges does this present the future of housing in London? How are we employing innovative models of construction and delivery to meet the 66,000 homes needed each year?

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MultiPly

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MultiPly, an installation by Waugh Thistleton Architects, the American Hardwood Export Council and Arup, will be on display in the crescent just outside of the Building Centre until Sunday 21 October.

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