The concept of modular construction has been around since the 18th century, when prefabricated pieces of stone, reinforced concrete blocks, and other materials were used to speed up the construction process.
In the industrial era, the use of prefabricated parts increased, which helped architects and builders to create tall and strong structures.
At the end of the 19th century, the concept of “self-supporting” architecture, a modular construction method that used metal structures as the structural skeleton of the building, became popular.
As technology and materials advanced, this modular construction system evolved and allowed for increasingly complex and sophisticated constructions.
Today, the popularity of modular construction is experiencing a revival due to its quick installation, easy customisation, reduced manufacturing costs compared to traditional construction, and also because it is a sustainable and environmentally friendly alternative.
Besides, thanks to 3D printing, digital manufacturing, and robotics, design, and construction processes are becoming faster and safer.
These developments, combined with the growing interest in sustainable building solutions, have given modular construction a privileged position among homeowners, businesses, and industrial projects alike.
Evolution of prefabrication and modular construction methods
Reviewing the development of prefabrication techniques in the history of modular construction is an extraordinary journey. From Sears Roebuck prefabricated homes in the early 20th century to technologically advanced factories, there has been an evident evolution.
First, with the inclusion of steel supplanting wood, the way was paved for the manufacture of larger and more elaborate buildings.
In the mid-20th century came the modular panel systems, which allowed the mass production of wall and ceiling panels in controlled environments. This improved profitability and reduced waste and costs.
Later saw the emergence of computer-aided design (CAD) and building information modelling (BIM). These further increased accuracy and productivity in the manufacture of modular components.
Today, modular construction is an industry that is continually innovating to meet the demands of a changing world.
Traditional building materials
For centuries, traditional building materials had been the basis of the construction industry. Stone, bricks, and wood were the most common components used to build structures.
Although each material had its advantages and disadvantages, they were the only options available before the introduction of modular homes.
Stone is a firm material, but it is also heavy and difficult to work with.
Bricks were an improvement compared to stones because they were lighter and easier to handle but were vulnerable to cracking and crumbling over time.
Meanwhile, wood is a renewable resource that is easy to handle, but it was also susceptible to rot and decay. Over time, several new materials were introduced.
However, it is important to point out that nowadays, thanks to wood improvement processes, it is possible to use this material again for modular construction with a high-quality result.
Concrete is an adaptable material that can be easily shaped. It is also very durable and able to withstand severe weather conditions.
Steel is another increasingly common material in construction that in addition to being strong, it is durable, fireproof, and pest-resistant. However, both materials have their drawbacks.
Despite the arrival of new materials, traditional building materials continue to play a crucial role in the construction sector.
Many builders still prefer to use brick or stone for their aesthetic appeal and strength. Wood continues to be favoured for interior finishes and framing.
As modular construction advances, traditional building materials will likely continue to be used in conjunction with contemporary materials to create buildings that are both aesthetically pleasing and structurally sound.
Evolution of modular building materials
Today, the term modular construction is used to refer to any type of construction involving the assembly of modules or parts.
Modular construction has been around for centuries and has evolved dramatically in recent years with the development of new materials, new technologies, and innovative approaches to design and construction.
The evolution of building materials has accelerated since the Renaissance. The invention of glass, the scientific application to designs, and the refinement of mixtures such as concrete have greatly changed the construction landscape.
With the invention of glass, concrete, and steel, it has been possible to design more complex and versatile modular structures.
Next, we will explore the evolution of modular building materials and their different uses.
Wood and steel for modular structures
Wood and steel are the two materials most commonly used in modular structures, and the latter has the most unique advantages.
The fusion of iron and carbon in the 19th century resulted in steel: a hard, rigid, compression-resistant material suitable for machines, trains, and architectural construction materials.
Steel modules or metal structures are the newest, but not the least common building material.
Steel can be easily shaped, allowing designers and architects of modular buildings to innovate and create curves and aesthetic features.
Influential architects who pioneered modular construction
The process of modular construction has come a long way, and many architects have been involved in its evolution and development. From the innovative minds of the 18th and 19th centuries to the famous architects of today, the history of modular construction is special and full of influential figures.
We will now explore the history of some of the leading architects and builders who paved the way for today’s success in the industry.
Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959)
This famous American architect and writer had an impressive career and is known for his unique style and philosophy of architecture.
Heavily influenced by the idea of modular construction, he designed many of his buildings with prefabricated parts.
He also pioneered the use of natural materials such as wood, stone, and glass, as well as being one of the first to explore cantilevered designs to reduce the amount of material used.
He is considered the first recognized architect to implement a prefabricated house.
In 1911 Wright designed houses that could be built with modules produced in factories and assembled at the final destination. This reduced housing costs, construction times, and labour costs.
Unlike the homes offered in the Sears Roebuck and Co. catalogues, Wright’s homes had his unmistakable style and vision.
Walter Gropius (1883-1969)
Walter Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus School, was a trendsetter in industrialized construction. His ambition was to use industrialization for the benefit of mankind.
To achieve this, Gropius proposed a series of standardized building elements that could be combined quickly and economically to create contemporary and useful structures.
His methodology combined principles of prefabrication and mass production that he had learned in a German furniture factory.
His idea, which was similar to Wright’s, generated several prefabricated houses in Germany to solve the problem of the housing shortage after World War II, emphasizing cost savings and reduced construction times.
Gropius was innovative in using materials such as steel and cork, reducing construction times to only three months.
His design of modern homes influenced not only the evolution and development of prefabricated modular homes but also had a major impact on architecture in general for years to come.
Jean Prouvé (1901-1984)
Jean Prouvé, the French designer and engineer, was another influential contributor to modular construction. An expert metallurgist, Prouvé’s designs integrated mass production with prefabrication.
He believed that modern architecture should be practical, efficient, and inexpensive.
His projects were characterized by modular construction, which facilitated assembly and disassembly. In addition, they used lightweight materials and could be adapted to different circumstances.
Prouvé’s legacy has had a major effect on the history of modular construction. His philosophy continues to influence modern architects and designers.
Konrad Wachsmann (1901-1980)
Konrad Wachsmann was a German architect and one of the pioneers of modern modular construction methods.
He is credited with introducing the concept of modern prefabrication. He used steel, concrete, and other materials in his designs.
His most famous work is “Packed Houses,” developed in 1942 in collaboration with another architect.
The design used an assembly of wood panels connected by L-shaped, T-shaped, and X-shaped metal supports, which revolutionized the possibilities of modern prefabrication.
Marcel Breuer (1902-1981)
Marcel Breuer was a Hungarian architect and industrial designer, a master of the Modern Movement, who was very interested in modular construction. He worked at Bauhaus, the school of design and architecture founded by Gropius.
As an architect, he was the mind behind the Bambos prefabricated houses in 1925.
The main objective of this project was to meet the demand of young teachers who wanted to have their own homes.
His experience in previous furniture designs had a clear influence on this project of modulation and prefabrication. He used mainly metal structures that were easy to assemble, creating three versions of the initial design.
A legacy to remember…
All these architects and innovators have played an important role in the development of modular construction, as have many other creative minds that have contributed to the industry.
By improving process efficiency and introducing new materials, methods, and philosophies, they have ensured that modular construction remains one of today’s most efficient and sustainable building methods.
Modular construction has come a long way and its success has been due to the efforts of the many architects and innovators who have shaped the industry.
By combining technology, materials, and new philosophies, they have created an efficient, cost-effective, and sustainable construction method.
From Frank Lloyd Wright and Walter Gropius to Konrad Wachsmann and Marcel Breuer, these influential figures have left their mark on history and helped ensure the success of modular construction for future generations.
Conclusion: Modular construction, an evolving story
Modular construction has endured and adapted throughout history, with the rise and fall of materials, techniques, and trends.
As technology continues to advance, new materials, designs, and ideas are being developed in the construction industry.
The availability and diversity of materials may change, but the passion and enthusiasm for construction will always remain the same.
Due to its focus on sustainability and efficiency, this construction method has the potential to significantly revolutionize the industry in the coming years.
In addition, the popularity of prefabricated housing in countries such as the U.S., Canada, and Northern Europe after World War II has demonstrated the potential of this style of construction as a cost-effective and practical solution to housing needs.
Finally, although this type of construction has a long history in countries such as Australia, England, and the USA, it is currently being implemented in other parts of the world, such as Spain, Germany, and China.
The advantages of modular construction have had an enormous impact on this industry, transforming it over time.