Modular housing is on the brink of a major milestone. Construction is under way of the world’s tallest towers built using modular manufacturing, a method by which houses or blocks of flats are built in sections offsite in a factory. Rather than gracing the skyline of Singapore or Beijing, the two towers, which will be 38 and 44 storeys high and contain 546 flats, are to be built in the London borough of Croydon.
Ben Derbyshire, the chair of HTA Design LLP, the architecture practice behind the Croydon towers, and president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, believes modular construction in the UK is at a turning point. “Confidence is now building and the capacity to construct homes in this way is emerging. So we will see it becoming less niche and more mainstream,” he says.
Modular construction, which is popular in countries such as Japan, Germany and Sweden, has been slower to take off in the UK. Of the 200,000 homes built each year in the UK, about 15,000 are modular, according to a report by law firm Pinsent Masons. Factory-built housing has had negative associations with the low-quality prefabricated homes of Britain’s post-war era. Modular housing’s proponents are understandably keen to avoid the “prefab” label. The construction method is billed as an entirely different proposition in that it produces high-quality, cost-efficient homes designed and manufactured using the latest technologies. “The buildings look and feel very solid and there’s no sense they have a transient or temporary quality,” says Derbyshire.