‘Factory-made’ homes are now being explored and advocated by national and Mayoral policy as one of the key potential solutions to meeting housing demand, not only in London but across the UK. However, factory-made housing still accounts for a very small proportion of the homes built in London each year – less than 10 per cent of total construction output. This research paper proposes a new ‘modular mindset’ for London and captures the current shape of factory-made housing with a showcase of projects.
The UK Government’s Housing White Paper (2017) notes that industry reports suggest homes constructed offsite can be built up to 30 per cent more quickly than traditional methods and with a potential 25 per cent reduction in costs. Furthermore, using a high proportion of precision-manufactured components, materials and systems is reported to bring other significant advantages over traditional construction, including superior quality control through prefabrication, better energy performance and reduced site deliveries, noise and pollution – and thus less disruption to existing communities.
However, concerns about the robustness of supply chains, safety, and product standards, and a lack of detailed guidance for those who wish to explore these methods are among the factors that are currently inhibiting the wider take-up of innovative or new manufacturing processes in the construction and delivery of housing. Similarly, the failure of many of the postwar ‘prefab’ and system-built blocks built on a large scale has resulted in widespread negative perceptions about ‘prefabrication’ that endure today.
Perhaps more significantly, housebuilding in London is severely hampered by a lack of skills and workers. As Mark Farmer’s hard-hitting recent review of the construction industry has shown, ingrained outlooks and procedures need to be challenged, and indeed overturned, if we are ever to achieve a major stepchange towards meeting housing targets. Many others in the industry agree that along with expanded capacity, a more diverse market, and safeguarding quality and standards, we need a new ‘modular mindset’ to revolutionise the ways in which housing should be planned, procured, designed and built.
Critically, the emphasis has to be on process as well as product – the use of manufactured elements is not new: it is just an alternative way of delivering the same outcome. The sophistication and range of manufactured systems and components available today – and the opportunities that digital techniques and processes offer – mean that factory-made construction has enormous potential to make a positive contribution to London’s housing needs. However, the same level of consideration needs to be given to design, placemaking, amenity, infrastructure and public realm, as it would for any project built using traditional construction methods, to ensure that quality remains at the core of delivering new factory-made homes that will support and sustain London’s communities for the long term.
Formed of roundtables, viewpoints and interviews with leading experts working in this field, the research is supported by a project showcase illustrating examples of factory-made homes currently being delivered across London, supplemented with projects from the rest of the UK, internationally, and across other sectors where there are lessons applicable to the capital.
The results have informed this publication, an accompanying exhibition and series of events, launched on Tuesday 09 October 2018. The exhibition will remain open to the public in the NLA galleries until January 2019 and during this time events will take place to further explore key themes, such as how London might achieve this modular mindset, learning from postwar prefabs and unlocking small sites with MMC.