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| 3 minutes read

Modularization a/k/a “Supersizing Construction” is Slowly Expanding into the U.S. Housing Market!

Supersizing” construction components reflects a variety of concepts including “modularization”, “prefabrication”, “off-site-fabrication”, “max-fabrication”, “max-fab”, “panelization”, “pre-assembly”, “standardization”, “constructability”, and the list continues to grow.  Owners and contractors throughout Europe and Asia began “supersizing” construction components when rebuilding housing units following World War II, long before "supersizing" became a fast food craze in the United States. Although the Marriott corporation has developed at least 32 modular hotels in the US since 2014, other stakeholders competing within the commercial housing marketplace have been slower to adopt the concept of “supersizing”.

Unlike, their counterparts in the commercial housing market, contractors involved with the industrial market throughout the US, have been "supersizing" components since the 1950's,  Many years of experience have proven that “supersizing” construction components into large modules off-site, or sometimes even on-site, provides multiple benefits, including:

  • Increasing productivity, by assembly under controlled conditions.
  • Accelerating schedules, by allowing assembly without regards to sequence.
  • Improving safety, by using repetitive procedures.
  • Lessening waste, by using pre-manufactured parts.
  • Heightening quality, by using the same crews under the same circumstances.
  • Promoting sustainability, by lessening waste and increasing productivity.
  • Avoiding weather impacts, by assembly in climate-controlled environments.
  • Reducing shipping issues, by lessening the number of shipments and parts.

Despite the benefits of “supersizing”, the commercial housing marketplace in the United States – aside from Marriott - has simply not embraced the concept of “supersizing” as readily as either their counterparts in the industrial sectors, or within the housing marketplaces across both the Atlantic and Pacific.

Construction components have recently been successfully “supersized” in the commercial housing marketplace throughout Australia, the United Kingdom, Asia, and Europe.  In Melbourne Australia, the La Trobe Tower, a 44-storey apartment building was constructed in 19 months as opposed to 26 months or 30% faster using integrated structural prefabrication, a proprietary panel façade system, and bathroom pods.  In Greenwich England, the Creekside Wharf Tower, a 23- storey apartment building was constructed in 32 weeks as opposed to 64 weeks, using 653 steel "Prefabricated-Prefinished Volumetric Construction" or PPVC Modules, including separate living and bathroom modules, delivered at a pace of 20 modules a week.  In Singapore, the Brownstone Executive Condominiums, a cluster of 638 apartments throughout 8 buildings each 10-storeys or more, is the largest modular development in the World and was constructed with 40% productivity savings using 5,000 concrete PPVC Modules at the rate of 1 floor per week.  Throughout Europe there are approximately 1,800 modular hotels both under construction and in the planning stages many of which are in Germany and France.

Ironically, one of the most famous uses of supersizing in commercial housing was introduced at the1967 World Expo in Montreal.  Habitat 67 was comprised of 354 concrete boxes creating 146 residences.  The modular boxes allowed for 15 different housing types, with gardens and terraces, connected by high tension rods, steel cables and welds, and accessed by six elevator pillars.  More recently, “supersizing” was used in development of the Star Apartments, a 5-storey homeless shelter in Los Angles, California, consisting of 102 units and 200 modules. 

The most impressive use of “supersizing” in the US marketplace is the Marriott AC Hotel, New York NoMad, the world’s tallest modular hotel, consisting of 29-storeys and 168 rooms.  Each guestroom is a separate PPVC module, fully finished, including beds, sheets, pillows and furniture, and fully equipped bathroom including toiletries.  The structure also included a modular roof and rooftop bar, with the entire structure and amenities erected in just 90 days.  Despite the accelerated schedules, reduced costs, and increased productivity, the commercial housing market in the United States has not kept pace with similar marketplaces overseas.

Perhaps the greatest impacts that modularization or "supersizing" may have upon society is when combined with 3D printing technology for use in constructing low-income housing.  [See "Is 3D Printing the Future of Construction, posted 5/10/23].  A small group of companies are employing 3D printing to address the housing crisis in the US.  In 2018, the walls of a 650 sf home were modularized using 3D printing of extruded concrete in 24 hours at a cost of approximately $12,000.  The 3D printer left openings for the doors and windows which along with the roof, MEP, and interior finishes were manually installed once the layered concrete had fully cured.  A partnership between "supersizing" and 3D printing would seem to offer a solution for overcoming the costs, time and labor shortages standing in the way of solving the low income housing crisis in our major cities and other urban areas. [See, "Is 3D Printing the Future of Construction", posted 5/10/23].

The demand for housing in urban areas has grown at a rapid pace over the last 200 years.  The world population residing in major cities and other urban areas was 3% in 1800, 15% in 1900, 55% presently, and is expected to be 66% by 2050.  Unless the construction industry helps society find a way to address the growing need for low cost housing in urban areas, homelessness will continue to expand at unprecedented rates.  


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