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Modular design or “modularity in design” is a design approach that subdivides a system into smaller parts called modules or skids that can be independently created and then used in different systems. “prefabrication” there is not another word in the current lexicon of architecture that more erroneously asserts positive change.

For more than a century now, this industrial strategy of production applied to building has yielded both an unending source of optimism for architecture, and equally, a countless series of disappointments.

Will modular be the future of architecture? The pair's New York City-based firm MOS founded in the early 2000s, went in pursuit of the "modularity”. House no.9 is an example of MOS’s project that uses prefab method.

This prefabrication home is designed as a remote weekend gateway for an art collector. The house can be read as a collection of six cubes, ten rectangles and two cylinders.

History of Modular Design in Architecture

Modular design is a type of design technique where a system is subdivided into smaller components referred to as modules. These modules are created independently away from the site (usually prefabricated in a factory) and then delivered to the site for installation or assembly. This design approach has been in existence for over a century now and has gone through numerous transformations to meet specific needs in the engineering and construction industry (Schuh, et al., 2014). The first modular building is reported to have been designed and constructed in mid-1800s by Henry Manning, a carpenter. The building was called Manning Portable Cottage. Its components were created in London after which they were shipped to Australia for assembling (EarthTechling, 2014). In America, the first modular buildings were those built by Sears Roebuck Company. The fabricated homes mainly targeted people who were moving for the Gold Rush in California. The most famous building to be created using modular design approach was Florence Nightingale, a modular hospital that was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and built at the time of Crimean War in 1855. The hospital was fabricated in London and shipped to Crimea for assembly (Reds10, 2014). It helped in reducing death rate in the region from 42 to 3.5% hence its popularity.

Use of modular construction has continued to evolve and spread to all parts of the world. The modular buildings can be used either as temporary or permanent structures. Today, there are several mega or multi-storey buildings, such as Nakagin Capsule Tower in Tokyo, Japan, that were created using modular design approach. Nakagin Capsule Tower comprises of 140 prefabricated capsules of eight different types that can be removed and replaced. It is a fascinating building that has motivated creation of many skyscraper modular buildings.

Pod Brooklyn in Williamsburg is a stunning example of a modular building that demonstrates the efficiency and other benefits of this design approach. The hotel has 249 rooms and is an integrated system of steel-framed modules. The modules were fabricated in Poland within three and a half months and then shipped to New York where they were assembled within six weeks. The courtyards, roofs and exterior walkways were completed in 16 months (Lubell, 2018). Broad Sustainable Building (BSB), a Chinese construction firm has completed several modular construction projects including: 57-storey building in 2015 completed in 19 days, 17-storey skyscraper in 2014 completed in 2 days, 25-storey tower in 2013 completed in 17 days, 12-floor building in 2012 completed in 62 hours, 30-storey hotel in 2011 completed in 15 days, and 15-storey hotel in 2010 completed in 48 hours, among others.

Advantages of Modular Construction

There are numerous advantages of modular construction. Some of these include: it is speedy (Building Talk, 2017), it is less expensive (Otto, et al., 2016), it is greener or more sustainable (Ahn & Kim, 2014), it generates less waste, indoor fabrication reduces risks such as delays due to weather, damage of materials and safety of workers, high design construction and maintenance flexibility (Zheng, et al., 2015), high quality, it is environmentally friendly (Generalova, et al., 2016), it can be used even in the remotest areas, and it provides faster ROI (return on investment). However, there are a few disadvantages of this approach. The disadvantages include: manufacturing and transportation restrictions of the modules may limit their sizes, some of the modules may be damaged during transportation, there are very few financial institutions offering loans for modular buildings, some people have not fully accepted the structural soundness of modular buildings, and sometimes modules may not be fully compatible with each other (Shoval, et al., 2016).

House No. 9 by MOS Architects is an example of today’s modular building. The 1,345-square-feet prefabricated house consists of different modules: ten rectangles, six cubes and two cylinders (MOS Architects, (n.d.)). The rooms of the house are symmetrical and similar but distinct. Therefore the characteristics of the house, including the blueprint of the house qualifies it to be modular. The house was also designed to ensure easy transportation from the fabrication facility to the site. The size of its room-units is reasonable making them easy to transport using trucks. The units were also fully prefabricated and only delivered to the site for final assembly. Once the room-units were delivered on site, no other modification was needed other than connecting, assembling and installing them. The house is also flexible for future expansion as extra rooms can be easily added when need be. Additionally, the bedroom patios and extensive glazing facilitate seamless connection between the interior and exterior environment of the house. The superstructure of the house sits on a strong, stable, conventional concrete substructure.

This modular building is unique because it has incorporated both the traditional and contemporary concepts of architecture. Use of symmetrical figures and rectangular solar chimneys puncturing through the room units are traditional architectural concepts used in creating colonial houses. These concepts were used in the past to increase the stability of the house, enhance natural ventilation and improve the house’s aesthetic value. On the other hand, the house also has a cistern and mechanical systems for storage of water and air-conditioning respectively. These are some of the modern concepts used for improving the indoor environmental quality of contemporary houses. Therefore the house achieved significant benefits of modular design approach such as being flexible (easy to expand and combining different geometries) (Xle, 2016), greener, generating less waste, reducing construction risks and producing high quality final product. It has also overcome the major challenges of modular construction by fabricating modules that can be transported easily and safely to the site and proving that modular houses are strong and durable. However, the house is not very appealing as it appears like several simple blocks combined together. This kind of patterns appears to be outdated and now attractive today. The available information is also not adequate to determine if the house was built faster and at a lower cost using the modular construction method.

Disadvantages of Modular Construction

A similar project to House No. 9 is Lido Beach House. The 2,735 square-feet house is located in Lido Beach, New York and was completed in 2009. It comprises of five boxes and a panelized garage. It sits on the edge of sand dunes and integrates seamlessly into cozy surrounding neighborhood (Resolution 4 Architecture, (n.d.)). The house has a blurred boundary between its interior and exterior. This house also demonstrated that modular houses comprise of modules that are assembled together to suit the intended use of the house.

There are several opportunities of making the House No. 9 more sustainable, economical and suitable for modern-day life. But being a remote weekend getaway, it achieved its goals and objectives. This house has demonstrated that modular design is the future of architecture. There is need for stakeholders in the architectural field to adopt techniques that minimize the cost, construction time, waste, and safety and health risks of houses without compromising their structural soundness, quality, indoor environmental quality and durability. One of these techniques is modular construction. The technique allows greater flexibility where architects can integrate both the ancient and contemporary design concepts and styles. This is also useful in appreciating the history of architecture and share the same information with the current generation. The method has numerous applications, including: housing, commercial, industrial, military, medical and government. (Boafo, et al., 2016) The technique and process is also more efficient today than it was before because of use of modern technology. If applied properly, modular design approach can help solve the housing problem and improve infrastructure globally. Advanced technology is also anticipated to continue making modular construction better and more efficient. For these reasons, modular construction is becoming mainstream and is definitely the future of architecture.

But for the anticipated benefits of modular construction to be realized fully, there is need to increase awareness among stakeholders in the industry and the general public about the method. Relevant government agencies should also formulate policies that promote adoption of modular design. Above all, building codes that support modular design should be developed.

References

Ahn, Y. & Kim, K., 2014. Sustainability in modular design and construction: a case study of ‘The Stack’. International Journal of Sustainable Building Technology and Urban Development, 5(4), pp. 250-259.

Boafo, F., Kim, J. & Kim, J., 2016. Performance of Modular Prefabricated Architecture: Case Study-Based Review and Future Pathways. Sustainability, 8(6), pp. 558-572.

Building Talk, 2017. What are the benefits of modular construction?. [Online]
Available at: https://www.buildingtalk.com/what-are-the-benefits-of-modular-construction/
[Accessed 9 October 2018].

EarthTechling, 2014. A "Mod" History - Modular Construction Makes a Mark. [Online]
Available at: https://earthtechling.com/2014/07/a-mod-history-modular-construction-makes-a-mark/
[Accessed 9 October 2018].

Generalova, E., Generalov, V. & Kuznetsova, A., 2016. Modular Buildings in Modern Construction. Procedia Engineering, 153(1), pp. 167-172.

Lubell, S., 2018. New York's Modular Building Revolution is Here. [Online]
Available at: https://nypost.com/2018/09/13/new-yorks-modular-building-revolution-is-here/
[Accessed 10 October 2018].

MOS Architects, (n.d.). House No. 9 Collector's Residence. [Online]
Available at: https://www.mos.nyc/project/collectors-residence
[Accessed 9 October 2018].

Otto, K; Holtta-Otto, K; Simpson, T.W; Krause, D; Ripperda, S. & Moon, S.K., 2016. Global Views on Modular Design Research: Linking Alternative Methods to Support Modular Product Family Concept Development. Journal of Mechanical Design, 138(7), pp. 1-16.

Reds10, 2014. A History of Modular Buildings. [Online]
Available at: https://www.reds10.com/2014/06/19/history-modular-buildings/
[Accessed 9 October 2018].

Resolution 4 Architecture, (n.d.). Lido Beach House. [Online]
Available at: https://www.re4a.com/lido-beach-house/
[Accessed 11 October 2018].

Schuh, G., Rudolf, S. & Vogels, T., 2014. Development of Modular Product Architectures. Procedia CIRP, 20(1), pp. 120-125.

Shoval, S., Qiao, L., Efatmaneshnik, M. & Ryan, M., 2016. Dynamic Modular Architecture for Product Lifecycle. Procedia CIRP, 48(1), pp. 271-276.

Wagner, K., 2016. The Modularity is Here: A Modern History of Modular Mass Housing Schemes. [Online]
Available at: https://99percentinvisible.org/article/modularity-modern-history-modular-mass-housing-schemes/
[Accessed 9 October 2018].

Xle, J., 2016. MOS Architects Finds Inspiration in Video Games and Vernacular Design. [Online]
Available at: https://www.curbed.com/2016/3/29/11325988/mos-architects-works-element-house
[Accessed 9 October 2018].

Zheng, H., Feng, Y., Tan, J. & Zhang, Z., 2015. An integrated modular design methodology based on maintenance performance consideration. Journal of Engineering Manufacture, 231(2), pp. 313-328.

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My Assignment Help (2021) Modular Design In Architecture: Advantages And Examples Essay. [Online]. Available from: https://myassignmenthelp.com/free-samples/srd765-architectural-design-and-resolution/engineering-and-construction-industry.html
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