MMC Design,
Design and image courtesy of Jo Cowen Architects

Modular construction and MMC are not only helping to achieve sustainable, efficient and attractive design in housing; they are leading the way, writes Jo Cowen, CEO of Jo Cowen Architects

As skills shortages persist and the climate crisis continues to deepen, all arrows are pointing towards the need for a radical rethink of the housing sector – and fast. Though the largest increase in new annual housing since records began may indicate a step in the right direction, we remain far off from the government’s target of 300,000 new homes a year. Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) could hold the key to solving the country’s housing crisis, while meeting, and frequently exceeding, evolving environmental and social standards.

For all its advantages, and there are many, modular housing has yet to take off in Britain. The legacy of post-war prefabricated homes has left much of the public wrangling with outdated perceptions of factory-built housing’s quality, while at the same time, the housing sector’s ageing workforce is losing its potential talent to newer, rapidly modernising industries. But something is changing and MMC is starting to rise to the forefront of housing innovation. In other words, prefab – or its long-lost descendent, anyway – is finally becoming fab.

Leading the way

MMC is not just helping us to achieve good design, it’s leading the way in this area. By speeding up the delivery of new homes by over twice the rate of traditional methods, modular not only allows us to meet demand faster, but gives architects like myself the breathing space to ensure that each and every building we put together is beautiful.

Manufacturing our homes in a controlled environment means we can ensure rigorous quality control, preventing the kind of defects that often arise during traditional housebuilding processes.

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At Jo Cowen Architects, we’ve recently submitted designs for 370 homes to be developed and operated by Apache Capital’s single-family rental housing platform Present Made as part of a new neighbourhood that will sit within the University of Cambridge’s Eddington.

All of Present Made’s houses at Eddington are being constructed offsite and we’re using modular as an opportunity to push the boundaries when it comes to innovation and high-quality design. Putting the wellbeing of residents first, the site’s interiors are spacious and designed to let in natural light, while being constructed using a series of high-quality, locally sourced materials.

Speed of delivery is not only good for design but also good for the pocket. With modular homes no more expensive than traditional builds when initially delivered, as economies of scale start to kick in, costs will begin to reduce rapidly across the whole supply chain. This also gives emerging SMEs a chance to compete with many of the leading traditional housebuilders.

Consumers will also benefit from long-term cost reductions, too. Innovations in improved insulation and low thermal bridging have made many modular homes draft-free. This has the advantage of making household energy bills 20% less expensive in the long run when compared to their traditional counterparts, while keeping us warm throughout the winter months.

The opportunities are endless

MMC’s environmental credentials could also go a long way towards popularising it with a reluctant public. With environmental concerns now increasingly on consumers’ minds when deciding which homes they want to buy or rent, green features are front and centre of Present Made’s Eddington site. Sustainability is inherent to modular housing, reducing energy consumption during construction processes by 67% on traditional methods. All 370 of Eddington’s build-to-rent homes have been designed to a BREEAM Excellent standard, one of the leading global green certifications for masterplanning projects, and Present Made is targeting a net zero operational carbon model.

But placing the environment at the heart of our design doesn’t just mean delivering on green commitments up until the moment a resident accepts their keys; it means ensuring that they can continue to live sustainably in these houses for decades to come. Present Made’s Eddington homes will be fitted with state-of-the-art rainwater harvesting that means water used to flush toilets – one of the greatest sources of domestic water wastage – has been recycled. Innovations like these are crucial for moving us towards a circular economy, the idea that everything we use domestically and in our industries should be continually repurposed rather than thrown away.

By building offsite, we can also look at ways for residents to move into homes as they are completed without facing the high levels of noise pollution typically associated with construction sites. With over half of British homeowners opposed to new developments being built in their local area, according to recent research by Warwick Estates, MMC could go a long way towards addressing concerns around traditional construction methods, while ensuring we deliver on much-needed housing commitments.

And as skills shortages look likely to persist at least into the near future, MMC gives us the opportunity to bring some of the brightest talent from across manufacturing into the housing sector.

If international trends are anything to go by, MMC could be making a major impact on our housing market very soon. These methods have already hit the ground running with our Nordic neighbours, with some 45% of Swedish homes now made using offsite manufacturing. And in Japan, a record-breaking 160,000 modular homes are constructed every single year. But with MMC’s benefits still flying under the radar when it comes to the public at large, developments like Eddington will be crucial when it comes to, quite literally, putting modular on the map.

 

Jo Cowen

MMC Design

Chief executive

Jo Cowen Architects

Tel: +44 (0)207 371 0357

info@jocowenarchitects.com

www.jocowenarchitects.com

Twitter: @JoCowenArch

Instagram: @jo_cowen_architects_

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