Finding Solutions to Modular Construction’s Challenges
Article authored by Rommel Sulit, Founding Principal and Chief Operations Officer at Forge Craft Architecture + Design
It sounds a bit like the stuff of 20th-century science fiction. Computers are printing buildings. Entire homes are created in a factory and shipped, complete with furniture, to their final site. For the construction industry, one that has built things in largely the same way their great-grandparents did, the concept of the modular construction method can still sound fantastical. And in some ways, it still is. But it doesn’t have to be.
As founding Principal and COO of the architecture firm Forge Craft, I have lived in the modular realm for the better part of a decade. In that time, I have seen modular construction go from being associated with low-end, “mobile” homes to one of the most exciting innovations in construction technology. Though comprising less than 5 percent of all construction, modular architecture is widely accepted as the imminent future of our industry.
It is pretty easy to see the advantages of modular building. Imagine if construction projects are completed in weeks rather than years, where standardized materials and processes allow for smarter and more reliable construction, where less waste is generated, workers are safer, and fewer site disturbances occur due to the factory-controlled environment.
I have been lucky enough to have been involved with some boundary-breaking modular construction projects ranging from student housing to 3D-printed homes aimed at disaster relief. I’ve also watched some of the most exciting ideas for modular projects, waylaid by a series of challenges that have much more to do with how new this delivery method is than anything else.
To realize the full potential of modular construction as a delivery method, those of us who are designing in this space, even those of us who are competing for projects, need to come together around advocating for the changes we need to see, including but not limited to zoning, codes, and approval processes. Here are some of the key challenges the industry is currently grappling with, as well as some of the most impactful ways to traverse these hurdles and expand the opportunities available for modular construction.