Prefab and modular design: "Traditional construction is doomed to disappear"

“Traditional Construction is Doomed to Disappear”: Interview With the Portuguese Office SUMMARY (ArchDaily)

For SUMMARY, a Portuguese architecture studio, the reasons for creating modular structures like this mixed-use building are largely financial. But modular/prefab is well positioned to reduce construction waste and improve options for building reuse.

Prefab doesn’t necessarily hinder creativity. Rather than the shape informing the construction system as with traditional architecture, the construction system informs the shape. SUMMARY hasn’t always found success with its prefab endeavors — some components were too large for practical transportation and handling, and there have been problems with scalability and replicability — but the firm is learning from its mistakes.

Potential benefits of prefab include but are not limited to material efficiency, improved quality control, embodied carbon reduction, reduction in impact from building operations due to tighter joint tolerances, better support of adaptation/reuse and recycling, improved indoor environmental quality, safer working conditions, less disruption to the surrounding community, and potential to help meet the need for affordable housing.

A study of prefabricated high-rises in Hong Kong found that substantial reductions in embodied energy can be achieved by using precast elements with reduced Portland cement content. A taphouse in Denmark was designed specifically with disassembly in mind. The rise in popularity of mass timber brings new potential for producing wall, floor, and roof panels offsite. We must build upon this body of knowledge to ensure the building industry is exhausting all effective decarbonization methods, as part of a multi-pronged response to the climate crisis.

What reuse or disassembly projects have you worked on, and what were the most notable challenges and successes?