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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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