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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 it? This is what modular architecture achieves. 

Modular architecture involves offsite prefabrication of small units that are put together onsite 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

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


  • Personalisable design and variety in overall structure.

Case study-Modular Research Center, Vizovice, Czech Republic

External view of the research center

It 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. 
  • The walls of the room module act as the load bearing element, resulting in column free customizable interiors.
  • The rooms have large span windows and openings at the top of the sliced cone roofs which act as skylights.
  • By making use of aluminum readily available on the site of the research center, the carbon footprint is greatly reduced. This also results in light and reflective walls. 
  • The furniture can also be customized by reconnecting the elements, making the rooms more flexible.

Interior view of the skylight

Gathering space outside the research center

  • Flexibility in building form arrangement.

Case study-Nakagin capsule tower, Tokyo 

The form of the Nakagin capsule tower

It was built by architect Kisho Kurokawa in the Metabolism style and served as a stay for traveling businessmen. 

  • The building consists of a 10 storey central concrete core to which 140 capsules are attached. 
  • Each capsule housed one individual. They could be combined to accommodate families. 
  • The 4x2.5m capsules were prefabricated offsite in a factory and attached to the core onsite using four high tension bolts. 
  • The building design was such that the capsules could be easily removed and also moved around. 
  • The building reflected the architect's idea that a city was ever changing and growing, and that buildings were impermanent. 
  • Although the building stands closed today due to bad maintenance, it was the forerunner of flexible modular architecture. 

A closer look at the capsules

Interior view of the capsules 

  • Can be disassembled to relocate,repurpose or reuse the building modules.

Vancouver Affordable Housing, Vancouver, British Columbia

External view of the affordable housing

It is group of  40 houses built on a 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.
  • Modules can be added, removed and modified with very few changes to the structure. 
  • The building is completely adaptable so that it can be deconstructed when the land is required and reconstructed on a new site.
  • The building’s multi point foundation system which sits at ground level makes it easy to reuse in different sites. 
  • By using modular architecture, a quick, cheap and flexible solution was derived for the housing problem in the city. 

  • Faster construction due to offsite prefabrication.

Case study-Leishenshan Hospital, Wuhan, China

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, where a traditional construction could have taken up to 5 years. 
  • It was built on a ground with a pre-existing 300m hard cover. It has a protective system to prevent toxins from seeping underground.  
  • The support system consists of cold formed steel welding. It is strong, durable as well as earthquake and wind resistant. 
  • Prefabricated containers that can be spliced as per requirement are used as modules. 
  • The containers are attached to the frame independently and also in horizontal and vertical combinations. 
  • The plan is divided into three zones as clean, contaminated and semi contaminated areas with separate channels for patients and medical care personnel. 
  • A combination of good technology and machinery aided by BIM simulations helped achieve shortest construction duration at a time of emergency. 

Construction of the hospital 

  • More control over material usage and quality.
  • More sustainable as building modules can be reused.
  • Lesser costs

Where is modular architecture preferred?

  • In buildings with recurring rooms. For example, classrooms in a school or rooms in a hostel.
  • In situations with less money, time or labor.
  • In sites where onsite construction is not feasible.
  • Where the building modules need to be individually customized.

Modular architecture and prefabrication

  • Prefabrication and modular architecture go hand in hand.
  • While the modules are made offsite, the foundation or support structure is simultaneously built onsite. This drastically brings down the construction time. 
  • Volumetric prefabrication involves offsite construction of small modules that are transported and put together on site. They may be entire rooms or smaller parts like bathrooms. 
  • Non volumetric prefabrication involves offsite construction of building elements like walls, columns or beams which are put together onsite to complete the building. 
  • Modular constructions may make use of both volumetric and non volumetric prefabrication as required. 

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

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