How to meet a tall order?
It was great to return to Elizabeth House in Dereham, the Council Offices for Breckland District Council, the other day. I can still remember the briefing meeting just 12 months before the offices opened, when we were asked to help the Council deliver 2,600m² of new office space; part of its commitment to centralising services, relocating from three regional offices. As the proposed site was not at that point owned by the Council, didn’t have planning permission or even a design, it seemed quite a tall order – but an order it was, and we were excited to help the Council deliver on its promise.
The prescribed timescale for the project and the risks associated with not meeting it, led us to consider modular, prefabricated construction. With planning and a public procurement process to go through, the constrained construction programme could only realistically be met by avoiding bricks & mortar and wet-trades, but the modular approach also offered other significant advantages:
- not just speed but certainty of time
- certainty of price
- a cost-effective solution
- flexibility in the design stages for cellular or open plan areas
- adaptability for future alterations.
Despite its eminent suitability, pre-fabricated construction still struggles to take a firm foothold in the housing sector. Architectural styling and cash-flow economics may have something to do with this but having worked with innovative companies Tufeco and Atelio Homes we can see a shift in this attitude. The Atelio concept, designed by Grimshaw Architects, uses pre-fabricated modular panels to create customised zero- carbon houses and apartments and, like similar modular systems, they go up at speed.
Speed was also a driver for the form of construction at our recently completed project at South Denes Business Park, Great Yarmouth.
With a construction programme of only 5 months, offices and warehouse space for Dutch Company BH Bus totalling 2,000m² are now finished. Sitting on pre-cast foundations that were simply – but very accurately – positioned in excavated pits, the building system in its entirety was shipped over from Holland to the outer harbour at Yarmouth and subsequently erected on the South Denes site.
Experience with modular construction is an important part of our knowledge base at Daniel Connal Partnership and it is fascinating to see the comparative cost and programme profiles against traditional methods of construction. With growing pressure on skills and labour, I can only imagine that the cost effectiveness of pre-fabricated construction is going to look increasingly favourable against traditional building techniques. Whilst as far as project programmes go, modular is always going to be the order of the day.