Modular Construction. What Does it Really Mean?

Today’s Topics:

  • What it is Not
  • What it is
  • How we are Tackling This Subject at Virginia Tech

What It Is Not

When modular construction is brought up, oftentimes there are many misconceptions that come along with it.

Naturally, people picture this idea in the same class as trailer homes. A house that was built a long time ago where prices were really affordable for low-income families and for people with disabilities. Then rows of these homes stacked together in large grass lots.

Another image would be RV’s. The kind of portable home where you could literally transport it anywhere on any day because it also serves as a vehicle. These are also viewed in the same way as trailer homes.

A trend that has happened in schools are portable classrooms. Many students have experienced this at least once during their education. Schools would have over enrollments and not have enough funds or resources to expand the physical school building. So they would build affordable classrooms out in the yards that would cover all of the essential things that a classroom needs.

Something that all three of these have in common is that they often sacrificed the aesthetic for affordability.

What It Is

Constantly the design and construction industry is looking for ways to reduce construction time and improve efficiency in their work. Modular construction and design are not a new concept but are coming back in a bigger better way.

Image from Pexels

Currently, our industry uses modular construction for a small number of projects. Transitioning to modular construction would be an overhaul of the many systems that are already in place at companies. In the foreseeable future, many firms already have a vision of how they want to use modular buildings.

These buildings are prefabricated in factories, and then transported to a job site for assembly. This process saves time because it allows multiple stages of development to be done at one time. You can be pouring the foundation while the building is being built in a factory. It also decreases stoppages due to inclement weather, and increases quality because it is built in a controlled environment.

Image from Pexels

There are various ways to make a building modular and many applications for this kind of construction. It has mostly been used to make homes, but is that really the only thing that they are good for? Of course not. This is where you can analyze the benefits and come up with a solution for how this works. This system is most beneficial for projects where there is a lot of repetition in its design. This can range anywhere between buildings like:

  • Hotels
  • Classrooms
  • Hospitals
  • Malls
  • Office Buildings
  • Residential developments
Image from Pexels

Starting from the design phase you have to work with a mindset that accommodates the way that it is constructed. If you design in modules you have to think about how and where your design will connect together as you might want to separate modules by rooms or by different elements in the building. Then you have to think about how large your modules will be since you will be shipping the modules to the site. Depending on its size you might have to change routes to the site for roads that cannot accommodate such loads and dimensions. There are many things that you have to take into account with this different method of delivery but it is do-able.

One of the main misconceptions with modular design is that your building only has the capability of looking like a bunch of Jenga blocks stacked up. This is not the case. If you think about it, we currently live in glorified boxes. Yes if you design modular, your might have many blocks so that they can connect, but when you aesthetically design as faces of a building instead of multiple boxes, your desired outcome will be the same as if you were designing in a traditional method.

How We Are Tackling This Subject At Virginia Tech

Our school has been actively developing concepts for modular design for over 10 years. This past semester, I joined the team in efforts to revitalize and take our concept to the next level.

Our current project is called the Futurehaus. In previous years, we have competed in various competitions. Most recently the Solar Decathlon in Dubai where our school competed with around 14 other schools to win first place.

Image from VT FutureHaus

The judges were so impressed with our teams design that we were then invited to participate in the 2020 World Expo (which has been postponed to 2021).

The World Expo is an event that showcases the worlds newest technologies and innovations from each country. Virginia Tech will be the first University to ever participate in a world expo.

So this is where I have come in. Ever since I found out about Virginia Tech I wanted to know what it took to be part of such an amazing design team. Turns out it was much simpler than I thought. Everything sort of fell into place for me. My first-year studio professor happened to be the project manager for the Futurehaus and he was recruiting students to join the project for the second semester.

In this class, we have gotten to familiarize ourselves with the house by working directly on revitalization. We have replaced walls, ceilings, and various other elements to restore the quality that was lost from moving it too many locations in a variety of weather conditions.

The second part of class was meant for us to develop the next innovations that will be part of the Futurehaus. There are concepts that have been and will be implemented to make this the smart home that many people dream of. A part that I am particularly working on is technology integration. oftentimes houses are not equipped with smart technology. When designing homes, the only standard thing is to have an outlet to plug things in. Then people compensate the lack of smart technology in their home by adding smart accessories all around their house.

In conclusion, modular construction will begin to play a big role in how we design. It is not just old trailer homes and portable classrooms. It is the same building that you would normally get, with half the construction time, and twice the innovation with the inclusion of smart technology. In 5-10 years from now, or the next time you decide to buy a house, consider a modular home. It will save you time, money and provide embedded smart technology.


Thank you for tuning into this week’s blog, stay tuned and support my blog by subscribing and commenting on any topics that you would like to hear more about. Dream Big!

Published by Alonzo Colon

Architecture Student at Virginia Tech

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