Developing better with Modern Methods of Construction (MMC)


As architect and developer, we have complete control over the design and build of our development projects. It means we can deliver our projects with design integrity and develop responsibly; free to explore Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) – off-site manufacturing and on-site techniques that provide alternatives to traditional house building. 

In our latest journal post, we highlight the importance of MMC and question why it’s not being used more widely in the construction industry. 

Modular and prefabrication have long been an accepted method for building construction in Japan and Scandinavia – in the latter, approximately 45% of all new homes built utilise MMC. But here in the UK MMC accounts, by best estimates, for around only *10% of all new homes. 

In Japan, the growth of prefabrication occurred after the Second World War – as both Japan and Britain suffered from a severe housing shortage and needed to industrialise their home building efforts to create housing quickly and efficiently.

In Britain, we ceased to continue with the kind of house building industrialisation that Japan set in motion. And, here, ‘prefabs’ quickly gained a bad rep for being poorly built.

But that was then. Nowadays, the methods and materials used are very different, albeit the housing shortage problem remains a similar driver.

Today, design technology has become a fundamental tool in the MMC process. Revit (Building Information Modelling software); is applied by our architects spacelab_ throughout the building’s lifecycle – from conceptual design to construction, its integral to every step of the process.

Such technology has digitised how we design and build, providing a solution that everyone understands, can easily follow and reference.

Yet, despite the technology being readily available MMC pick up by developers is still relatively low, although predicted to rise. And, as radical change continues at pace in other sectors like automotive and energy, by stark contrast, the construction industry sector continues to modernise at a slow pace. Developers’ opting to stick with more familiar traditional construction methods. Incredibly the majority of building construction around the world still use methods that are over 100 years old.

Government legislation may be needed to make more widespread change happen – as was the case in Scandinavia – but we believe developers have a responsibility to do more directly.

At urbanlab_ we’re learning to embrace MMC and are now implementing it with our projects. Take our latest development Stratford Park – the scheme comprises a church and communal space on ground and basement levels with 17 residential apartments above. The core building structure is being built using a steel modular construction system. Designed and engineered off-site, it’s then assembled on-site much like giant pieces of a Meccano set. The system has many benefits over traditional construction methods, to share a few:

Sustainability – the materials are 100% recyclable, there is zero site wastage, and the need for site deliveries is vastly reduced. 

Time – modular construction speeds up build times, in this case by around 30% over traditional build methods. And this reduces the level of disruption for the local community and helps us deliver the building for its new occupiers sooner. So everyone wins.  

Quality and performance – a key aspect of the steel structure is its stability, which reduces the amount of shrinkage and movement that occurs post build as the building settles. And being steel, it’s not prone to rot or degradation.   

Stratford Park is a development that utilises MMC alongside traditional methods of construction. We have chosen hardwearing materials with the basement and ground floor finished in a light colour engineering-type brick, with copper type clad providing a robust and solid base for the building. The main upper floor walls constructed in a striking white engineering-type brick, with dark grey aluminium windows and recessed copper type cladding on the top floors. On the upper floors, the balustrades to the balconies will be metal railings.

In summary, this is a more balanced approach to construction, a step in the right direction. And, in the future, we will be exploring new developments that entirely use MMC techniques. Our course is set. 

*Source: Savills – Modern Method of Construction Report.