In August 2020, Boris Johnson visited the construction site for the Hereford Hospital additional state-of-the-art wards. The project, run by MTX, provided 72 much-needed beds for an NHS that was and still is under immense pressure. Mr Johnson was visiting to promote Project Speed, a scheme to build better, greener, and faster, especially in healthcare where extra space is desperately needed.

While it was an honour for MTX to welcome the PM to the site of one of their modular construction projects, it wasn’t a surprise that this method of building was seen as the solution. Despite long-held views about the use of modules in construction, it is clear that the quality and environmental credentials are now fully recognised.

Why are modular buildings better?

Modular buildings are built, as the name suggests, by stacking modules on top and beside each other. These modules are constructed in a factory setting to pre-engineered specifications and delivered completed to the site. The client’s experience is better because there are fewer people, traffic, noise and disruption on site – which is particularly important for hospitals.

The factory setting allows for high levels of quality control and maintenance of standards in components. Unlike on a traditional site, expert tradespeople work onsite all the time and can be trained and supervised effectively. Equally, components are stored indoors and so not exposed to the weather. Consequently, the product is better.

These modules are also highly engineered solutions. There is an in-house research and development team that continually works to improve the design and personalise the product to the client’s needs.

How can a modular building be greener?

The problem with traditional modes of construction is a) when the building has completed its lifecycle, it is demolished, and the debris is taken to landfill, and b) there is a lot of wasted resources onsite, as over-ordering is necessary to ensure there is enough supply on the day.

For modular construction methods, the same is not true. When a unit comes to the end of its life, it can be deconstructed, and much can be recycled. Equally, as the unit is built in a factory, supplies can be ordered in bulk and stored for future projects. An estimated 60% less waste ends up in landfills, which is massive in the time of the sustainability agenda and worries over resources.

More importantly, the building will also operate more efficiently. The air quality and permeability are higher, and so is the energy efficiency as a consequence. It will take less to keep these units warm in the winter and cool in the summer because of the quality of the build. While there is an obvious saving made on utility bills, it also reduces the carbon footprint of modular buildings.

How are they built faster?

Using modular construction methods saves at least half the time when building. How does this work? Well, the groundworks and the module unit are built at the same time. When the substructure is complete, the super-structure is ready for delivery. The MEP is prefabricated offsite, as are the finishes. Therefore, by the time the module is delivered to the site, there is little to do before handover to the client.

This certainty of the timeline is important for the budget. As the work on the module is done indoors with a set workforce, the chances of delays are minimised. As delays are the most likely cause of budget overruns and the need for contingencies, such costs are avoided with modular techniques.

The three wards for Hereford Hospital were delivered in 11 months. The disruption onsite was reduced, and the facilities delivered with a sense of urgency that is required.

The right choice

By visiting the site, Boris Johnson signalled that modular construction was the perfect solution for the government. It is possible to build better, build greener and build faster. You can achieve the high standards you need, especially in healthcare and protect the planet. Most importantly, you can react quickly to shortages and high-stakes projects that need a solution quickly. It isn’t often that you can get speed without compromising standards – but this is definitely one of those times.

Published on Holr Magazine