Bloque de viviendas modulares.

How can modular construction benefit the creation of smart cities?

Author | Tania Alonso

Modular construction may be a solution for tackling some of the greatest challenges of our time, such as rapid urbanization, the environmental crisis or health emergencies. The construction of the Huoshenshan hospital in Wuhan, China, in just a few days in order to respond to the COVID-19 crisis at the beginning of 2020, highlighted the possibilities of working with prefabricated structures.

Combining alternative building techniques with new technologies may transform the creation of smart cities, by offering more economical, more efficient and more eco-friendly possibilities.

Efficiency at various levels

The first benefit that tends to be taken into account when assessing the efficiency of modular buildings is the speed of construction. According to McKinsey’s report ‘Modular construction: from projects to products’, modular construction can reduce project execution times by 50%. As a result, costs can be reduced by up to 20%.

The environmental impact is also lower, by mitigating the impact of construction tasks and reducing the amount of waste. Furthermore, many modular housing and building manufacturers prioritize the use of less polluting or recycled materials opting for solutions that favor energy efficiency.

In recent years, the use of more sustainable materials and the selection of higher quality homes have fueled the demand for different types of modular buildings and the growth of the modular construction market, such as those based on prefabricated structures, containers and materials using 3D printing technologies. According to the consulting company McKinsey, this real estate market could be worth 130 billion dollars in Europe and the United States by 2030.

Houses made from prefab blocks.

The main disadvantages, however, include lack of personalization with these types of homes and a bad reputation based on badly executed examples (in countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom, for example), where they are seen as a cheap and poor quality option.

Cities built with modular houses

Modular construction may help with the construction of more efficient, sustainable and more economical private facilities (such as homes) and public facilities (such as hospitals or schools). The Dodge Data & Analytics report ‘Prefabrication and Modular Construction 2020’ also indicates that other elements of smart cities, such as transport infrastructures, may also be built using modular techniques, thus offering an alternative solution to conventional methods.

This will enable numerous social and demographic challenges to be addressed by following a strategy aligned with that of smart cities, as is already the case in various cities around the world.

APROP in Barcelona

The Close Proximity Temporary Housing (APROP in Spanish) scheme in Barcelona forms part of a project designed to offer temporary housing for vulnerable people or those in situations of residential exclusion.

These are modular constructions, made with recycled and refurbished shipping containers. According to the city council, the construction of the first APROP building, which consists of 12 dwellings, was completed in just four months, thanks to industrialized construction systems. This process enabled waste to be reduced by 58% and CO2 emissions by 32%. Furthermore, this building’s energy consumption is between four and six times lower than that of a conventional construction with the same characteristics.

Since the APROP buildings can be dismantled, they can be transported to other parts of the city when necessary, adapting to housing demands in a quick, urgent and cost-effective manner.

Images | Étienne Beauregard-Riverin, Alexander Andrews