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Prefab - Out Of Sight, But Not Out Of Mind

The website Construction Dive recently featured a lead article on the current wave of offsite or prefab building components, citing the Marriott Corporation’s use of pre-fab modules for the construction of a number of their hotels around the country.

Currently plans are underway for the construction of as many as “50 Marriott brand hotels” that utilize prefab bathroom modules or guest rooms. The article explains that the Marriott brand will further legitimize the use of prefab modules in the commercial market.

The Construction Dive article cites the lack of skilled labor as one factor in the expanding use of prefab construction.

“Anirban Basu, the Associated Builders and Contractors' chief economist, said contractors can expect continuing hiring difficulties, as well as a hike in workers' wages. Of course, this drives up project costs and frustration on the part of construction managers who might have to choose between project delays and cost overruns.”  

“Proponents of offsite construction point to its controlled environment within a manufacturing facility as a benefit that the method has over traditional onsite building. In addition, offsite can reduce project schedules, thus reducing the amount of work hours needed.”

Some designers are continuing to fight the manufacturing process as they feel that it stifles their creativity and other critics claim “all you are doing is building a box and we might as well be using shipping containers.” Both are true.

More important is that the use of prefab can cut construction costs and schedules and can meet more precision requirements by using techniques already used by manufacturers around the world.

This is not a new conversation. In the early years of my architectural practice, we designed several buildings using prefab concrete and other structural elements for a client who built so called “manufactured housing” that most folks knew as trailer homes. The process was successful then, in fact, the noted designer Paul Rudolph designed an office building in Dallas that was built with precast elements.

The conversation of using prefab died down when the market did the same. Perhaps the combination of a hot market, continued skilled labor shortage and the incorporation of manufacturing methods into the commercial, residential, healthcare and hospitality markets will give prefab the strength it needs to make a major impact on construction as we know it.