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When we hear about prefabricated and modular houses, most people imagine basic projects with cheap materials, chosen without taking into account the aesthetic conditions or the characteristics of each of these materials. The cheapest floor, plywood furnitures and in general, nothing architecturally relevant. It is assumed that the modular and prefab housing is intended to be cheap and quick to build. However, linking prefabricated systems and good architecture to create efficient and quality housing is possible .

What is a prefab house?

Prefabricated houses are those that have been built from standardized sections in a different place to the one they will finally take their place. Prefabricated houses, as their name suggests, are made in factories or warehouses before they are placed on the assigned land, which clearly reduces construction costs, as well as reducing building times considerably. Therefore, the actions carried out directly on site are, essentially, of assembly instead of building.

Although this concept is usually assimilated to typical temporary buildings, the truth is that this type of construction has become an efficient and much more sustainable way of building houses in the last decade. The most commonly used materials of these types of projects are wood and reinforced concrete, always depending on the dimensions, climate and budget. We also find prefabricated steel buildings, whose structures are particularly durable and stable.

What is modular housing?

Modular housing is not far from what we know as prefabricated houses. In fact, modular architecture is considered to be the evolution of prefabricated systems. Modular housing is characterized by its versatility, also by its technology and speed of assembly. Just like prefabricated houses, they collaborate to reduce costs, optimise resources and reduce deadlines. The truth is that modular housing is a high quality product, which is usually designed to meet energy efficiency standards, seeking environmental balance both in manufacturing and in the rest of its life.

Without a doubt, the development of techniques and materials has allowed construction technologies to be improved and very satisfactory results to be achieved. In recent years, modular architecture based on sea containers in housing construction has managed to remove the stigma of this type of construction, and turn it into a sustainable, cheap and fast format, without losing the quality of the finishes or the materials.

Advantages of modular and prefabricated architecture

Concerning the type of contruction, both concepts have a link. That is why we can bring together the advantages of both types in one space.

These types of architecture, both modular and prefabricated, have an advantage in ecological and environmental terms. Their systemenables recycling and the use of materials to give them a second life. In addition, it allows the installation of systems such as solar panels, which are adapted to efficiency standards and therefore have a lower environmental impact.

Prefabricated and modular houses allow a reduction in manufacturing times compared to traditional construction, and increase the security conditions of their workers during construction.

The modular architecture eliminates the problems and shortcomings of prefabrication, further reducing the impact on the environment and achieving improved finishes of the house. In addition, it is easier to adapt to specific regulations, such as the Technical Building Code in Spain, which is not always the case with prefabricated housing.

The cost of both types of architecture can be much lower than traditional buildings. Despite what is often thought, their price can increase considerably when using certain materials, but that's not a general rule.

In short, it offers great possibilities compared to traditional buildings, that require hard work and long periods to finish them, but without losing what characterizes careful designs. In addition, size is no longer a problem, especially in modular homes, and any type of home can be built regardless of its surface area.

Examples of modular and prefabricated housing projects

We can see examples of both types of architecture in some architects who have chosen buildings of this condition to develope their projects. They emphasize the use of recycled or sustainable materials, which allows not to lose neither the quality nor the finishes of the constructions.

Iku Habitat is a modular construction system presented at the 2019 Design Fair, whose aim is to speed up processes, using prefabricated components that have been assembled with screws.

casa modular

AMPS architecture office combines the prefabrication of plywood with photovoltaic and geothermal energy systems in its project in the United Kingdom. Seeking to fit naturally into the landscape, but with contemporary finishes, AMPS has managed to give life to the bright interior of this building in the typical "English barn" style. Another example that de-stigmatizes these types of buildings.

Master in Collective Housing UPM/ETH

On March 31st, MCH 2020 students received three specific training sessions on industrialisation applied to collective housing, given by Professor and Doctor of Architecture Diego García- Setién. They were able to talk about the different construction systems and study many examples.

If you are also interested in this subject, we encourage you to be part of the next MCH 2021.

The Master of Architecture in Collective Housing, MCH, is a postgraduate full-time international professional program of advanced architecture design in cities and housing presented by Universidad Politécnica of Madrid (UPM) and Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH). Apply now!
Next edition of the MAS in Collective Housing will start in January 2021, the application period is already opened, and it will remain so till 31.12.2020 or until vacancies are filled.

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