The modular construction delivery method emphasises project effectiveness.

Thinking

Modular construction delivering 21st Century learning facilities for young people

In decades past, cookie-cutter asbestos-laden demountable classrooms were installed on school sites to provide additional learning spaces quickly and cost-effectively. Today, gone are the demountable classrooms, replaced by customised modular units that can still provide certainty in programme and cost, while also delivering fast, sustainable, high-quality, flexible learning spaces in tune with modern pedagogy.

Modular construction has responded to the rapidly changing needs of schools. The days of rows of desks and blackboards are long gone. Contemporary school buildings are smart, flexible, and configurable high-quality spaces that facilitate student growth and learning.

Modular design technology and precision engineering, powered by digital tools, is driving overdue change in this sector where modular construction is becoming preferred over the ‘hit and miss’ quality of traditional construction for permanent buildings.

Faster, smarter and greener – modular construction is enabled by new technology and procurement models, delivering best-in-breed learning facilities for primary and secondary schools.

The modular construction delivery method emphasises project effectiveness. It aims to identify and adopt the most effective approach to deliver a project with minimised resource, exploitation and damage to the environment, and maximised quality of work, health and safety and assurance of delivery:

Modular construction delivery method

Modular construction delivery method

Modular school buildings and the value effect

If education has been undergoing a major revolution in recent years, so has the demand for purpose-built functional spaces in schools. One challenge with traditional building techniques is being able to build within constrained spaces safely, without significantly interrupting school activities and schedules, but fast enough to meet growing demand.

Permanent modular school buildings are becoming increasingly recognised for their value effect. The combination of integrated designs, purpose-built spaces, and exceptional flexibility in design is making the difference.

Clients are looking for safety during installation, cost surety, quality outcomes and speed of delivery.

In the largest investment in public education in South Australia’s history, the government is funding school upgrades in a massive building programme. Aurecon, with history of working in the education sector in South Australia, has been engaged for our modular construction experience, to design modular buildings at 21 schools.

To minimise disruption to school operation during the works, entire buildings are manufactured offsite and then craned into position where second fix activities and landscaping is undertaken. Higher levels of quality control and faster construction programmes are two of many features of this approach.

Upgraded classrooms and facilities will provide state-of-the-art spaces for learning across the state.

Case study
History of working in the education sector in South Australia

Education sector in South Australia

Architecturally designed, and optimised, permanent modular buildings are constructed off-site in modules to high standards and then installed with minimal disruption to students, staff and learning programmes.

Modules are delivered to schools where builders assemble them. When schedules are optimised, this can cut up to half the time required for a traditional build, giving students and teachers faster access to high-quality learning environments, while minimising disruption on site, delivering safer outcomes.

Modular construction technologies have existed for many decades. The evolution of digital tools now makes it possible for designs to change quickly in response to the specific requirements of the application.

The resulting digital models become an integral part of the asset management requirements of buildings, enabling both capex (capital expenditure) and opex (operating expense) to be optimised. If done right, these models can be used deep into the lifecycle of an asset.

Government initiatives for manufacturers and other stakeholders involved in manufacturing and upstream and downstream supply chain will create more interest among manufacturers of units.

Aurecon faster modular construction

Faster

  • Reduced construction schedule. Building and site foundation work can occur simultaneously, so projects can be completed up to 50 per cent faster than traditional construction.
  • Minimise weather delays. As the majority of the construction is completed inside a factory, a higher quality build continues to proceed even during inclement weather.
  • Bespoke quality materials. The same architect-specified materials used in traditionally constructed buildings can also be used in modular construction projects – timber, concrete and steel.
Aurecon smarter modular construction

Smarter

  • Limitless design opportunities. Modular units can be designed to fit in with the external aesthetics of existing buildings and once assembled, sit comfortably with their site-built counterparts.
  • Customised designs. Designs, unique to the needs of each project, are ‘built in the boardroom’, designed virtually with data-rich digital engineering tools.
  • Greater cost certainty. Exact quantities of construction materials are defined early, along with greater predictability of factory workforce requirements, contributing to cost certainties.
Aurecon greener modular construction

Greener

  • Improves safety. Removing on-site building construction reduces vehicle traffic and lowers the number of trades simultaneously on site, improving safety and security.
  • Less waste material. Since mass production is carried out in a controlled factory setting, construction waste material is significantly reduced.
  • Energy efficiency. Digital engineering can visualise and assess the energy performance of the units and identify the most cost-effective efficiency measures, which are delivered to a consistently high standard in factory production.

Digital design for modular prefabrication construction

The concept of modular construction not only supports engineering methodology, but also the industry transition from full on-site construction to on-site assembly of ready-made prefabricated building units.

These are customised and architecturally designed buildings that reflect the character of each school and integrate with existing buildings.

Modular construction can respond to natural disasters and emergencies in incredibly short timeframes. An example of this was at Melbourne’s Monash Medical Centre.

Complete rooms to isolate and treat patients presenting with symptoms of coronavirus were manufactured entirely offsite in a factory-controlled environment and built to the specifications of Monash Health, to act as their expanded temporary emergency department.

The modules included ventilation, medical supply systems, nurse call, fire protection, power and data.

Case study
Temporary expansion of the emergency department at Melbourne’s Monash Medical Centre

Monash Medical Centre Modular Health Solution, Australia

Furthermore, a systematic approach in collecting and recording project data and feedback is crucial for modular projects. Therefore, the infrastructure for data collection and recording has been reviewed. Customised designs, unique to the needs of each project, are designed virtually using data-rich digital engineering tools.

Digitally prefabricated modular building components, in a factory-controlled environment, improves quality control. Identical products are created based on models and then components requested in the field are presented.

The conditions are right for modular construction to shine

Modular construction is a natural fit for schools projects, with up to 95 per cent of construction occurring offsite, reducing on-site activities to an absolute minimum.

The construction delivery method looks set to play an increasingly important role in the provision of learning environments in the future. The supply and demand drivers combined with the factors of digital and smarter design and construction, and greener outcomes, make it appear inevitable.

The benefits are less about repeatability, and more about customisation of a solution that’s specific to site constraints and building function requirements. It’s a system of building where even though the building components are prefabricated, they are still bespoke, which is much easier to achieve given the evolution of digital design tools, and their ongoing role in asset management.

Bearing little resemblance to the old-style demountable buildings from decades past, the new generation of modular classrooms are high performance, bright, adaptable, robust and well insulated against the elements and ambient noise.

Many of the lessons learned from the modular construction approach can be shared and exchanged between different sectors across our built environment, such as: education, data and telecommunications, defence, health and property.

For instance, modular design and construction is becoming more attractive in booming sectors such as data centres, which have seen exponential growth over the past decade, and particularly since the onset of COVID-19 and the shift to remote working, learning and accessing leisure and shopping online.

Successfully sharing knowledge between sectors will continue to drive the advancement of manufacturing practices and continually improve the development of modular buildings that deliver benefits to the triple bottom line – time, cost and delivery.


About the author

Corey McDonald is an Associate in the Buildings Sector and is Aurecon’s Education and Research Sector Leader for South Australia. Corey has experience in the design management and project management of multidisciplinary engineering teams on large-scale projects. He brings a strong cooperative, goal orientated drive, and an out-of-the-box problem-solving approach.

A highly inclusive leader, Corey has a particular passion for diversity and the benefits it brings to project and design solutions. He is an experienced engineer, and has a background working in the building services industry and working on built environment projects. He is a specialist in the engineering of modularity of design and construction, also having a practical background from working on modular buildings in the mining sector.

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