3 Modular Architecture Examples and Their Characteristics

The construction of a building has traditionally been a labor-intensive on-site process, spanning years. The end product is a permanent structure that can be demolished as need be. What if there was a sustainable way of constructing buildings within weeks, with lesser cost, and a way of deconstructing and rebuilding them? This is what modular architecture achieves. 

Modular architecture involves offsite prefabrication of small units that are put together on-site to complete the building. The configuration of the building can be changed by playing with the modules. Often, the entire building can also be relocated.

How it Works

  1. Independent units called modules make up the entire building.
  2. These modules can be customized, bringing a personal touch to each module and variety to the building. 
  3. Individual modules can be added, removed, and easily repaired. 
  4. This system also allows the possibility of deconstructing the building and rebuilding it elsewhere. 
  5. It makes use of software and BIM simulations and requires correlation between the design and construction teams to ensure that the modules built offsite can be assembled accurately onsite. 

Characteristics of Modular Architecture 

1. Highly Customisable 

The modular architecture is available in a variety and is also easily personalizable in its overall structure.

Modular Research Center, Vizovice, Czech Republic

External view of the research center
External view of the research center

This research center is a modular-style research center cum open gathering space, which breaks away from the regular right angles seen in most modular constructions. The modules consist of flooring, rotated room containers and a roof that fix to form angular shapes. 

  • Walls: The walls of the room module act as the load bearing element, resulting in column free customizable interiors.
  • Openings: The rooms have large span windows and openings at the top of the sliced cone roofs which act as skylights.
  • Furniture: The furniture can also be customized by reconnecting the elements, making the rooms more flexible.
Interior view of the skylight
Interior view of the skylight
Gathering space outside the research center
Gathering space outside the research center

2. Flexibility

There is high flexibility in terms of building form and their arrangement in modular architecture.

Nakagin capsule tower, Tokyo 

The form of the Nakagin capsule tower
The form of the Nakagin capsule tower

 The Nakagin capsule tower was built by architect Kisho Kurokawa in the Metabolism style and served as a stay for traveling businessmen. The building consists of a 10 story central concrete core to which 140 capsules are attached. 

  • Rooms: Each capsule housed one individual or was combined to accommodate families. 
  • Room dimensions: The 4×2.5m capsules were prefabricated offsite in a factory and attached to the core onsite using four high-tension bolts. 
  • Flexible design: The building design was such that the capsules could be easily removed and also moved around. 
A closer look at the capsules
A closer look at the capsules
Interior view of the capsules 
Interior view of the capsules 

3. Disassembly Or Reuse

Modular structures can be disassembled to relocate, repurpose or reuse the building modules.

Vancouver Affordable Housing, Vancouver, British Columbia

External view of the affordable housing
External view of the affordable housing

It is a group of  40 houses built on vacant public land provided by the city to fulfill the needs of affordable housing. Each unit consists of a bathroom and a kitchen, with shared laundry, indoor and outdoor spaces.

  • Additional Structures: Modules can be added, removed and modified with very few changes to the structure. 
  • Deconstruction/Reconstruction: The building is completely adaptable so that it can be deconstructed when the land is required and reconstructed on a new site.
  • Reusable: The building’s multi-point foundation system which sits at ground level makes it easy to reuse in different sites. 

4. Faster Construction

Faster construction happens due to offsite prefabrication, resulting in lower time of construction and lesser labour costs.

Leishenshan Hospital, Wuhan, China

Bird’s eye view of the hospital
Bird’s eye view of the hospital

It is a hospital built to help patients during the COVID outbreak. It was constructed in a record time of 12 days, whereas a traditional construction could have taken up to 5 years. 

  • Protective systems: It was built on the ground with a pre-existing 300m hardcover. It has a protective system to prevent toxins from seeping underground.  
  • Support system: The support system consists of cold-formed steel welding. It is strong, durable as well as earthquake and wind resistant. 
  • Modules: Prefabricated containers that can be spliced as per requirement are used as modules. 
  • Containers: The containers are attached to the frame independently and also in horizontal and vertical combinations. 
  • Zoning: The plan is divided into three zones clean, contaminated, and semi-contaminated areas with separate channels for patients and medical care personnel. 
  • Low cost: Lesser costs due to a lesser material budget, lower construction time, and labor.
Construction of the hospital 
Construction of the hospital 

Where is modular architecture preferred?

  1. Recurring Spaces: In buildings with recurring rooms. For example, classrooms in a school or rooms in a hostel.
  2. Low-cost Projects: In situations with less money, time or labor.
  3. Off-site Construction: In sites where onsite construction is not feasible.
  4. More Options: Where the building modules need to be individually customized.

By adapting to this innovative construction method, buildings can be built faster, cheaper and more flexible while being sustainable. 

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