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Prefab could be one giant leap for mankind

letters

I have just read Barry Holmes' riposte to Michael Howard's Guardian advertisement (AJ 22.1.04) concerning prefabricated versus traditional building methods.

Even if we ignore the vested interest, can we just look at the facts? Throughout Europe and the US, the prefabricated manufacturing process accounts for a large amount of the residential building programme. This should suggest a closer examination of 'why'. The quality of what is provided in both the US and Europe far exceeds that which is achieved here in the UK. At Jordan+Bateman Architects, we are working with a Finnish manufacturer on a number of care homes and accommodation for homeless families in the UK, as well as large detached houses for overseas projects. The standards that are normal to the Finns are substantially higher than those of the UK market - and they are cheaper.

The manufactured lifeexpectancy of our prefabricated buildings will be 70 years minimum, which is comparable to the traditional method. No compromise there, then. The fact that the buildings are likely to go on to be several hundred years old should not be discounted.

The techniques are not, as Holmes states, new and untested. They have been developed over hundreds of years; and with the onset of new manufacturing techniques, they just get better.

The costs are substantially reduced because they have a developed industry which understands the process. We spoke to several UK manufacturers before we settled on the Finns and there was no comparison.

They achieve cost savings by working in a controlled environment, which is safer and more pleasant than a UK building site.

They avoid so much wastage of human and material resources, which again is so prevalent on UK sites. The productivity is higher, the elements are qualitychecked before leaving the factory, the on-site time is reduced; and zero defects are a real possibility.

The build quality being higher; the defects being less; the thermal and acoustic performance exceeding current standards; the speed of erection (two weeks on site for a 200m 2detached house; a 22-unit development of three and fourbedroom houses built in 15 weeks), all speak for themselves.

Cars are prefabricated and factory-built but the quality has in no way been diminished.

Rather, the deliverability and quality of car manufacture should be a lesson to all who make buildings of what can be achieved with enhanced prefabricated techniques.

We confidently expect that within three years we will be delivering a variety of different buildings, individually designed and bespoke, from a prefabricated standpoint, using a range of materials to an ever-expanding client base.

Prefabrication today is not Ronan Point or the post-war prefab (although much loved by those who have lived and still do live in them). It is about dragging the construction process out of the outmoded techniques and processes of the 19th century and in one giant leap for mankind depositing it into the 21st century.

The traditionalists (and brick and block manufacturers) may continue to believe that there is only one way to build. The rest of the world differs.

In our staff inductions into this process I have asked: 'How would we build a settlement on the moon? Would we prefabricate it here on earth and assemble on site or would we send a contractor with bricks, mortar, timber, scaffold etc?' The answer is self-evident. Then why do it any different here on earth?

Philip Jordan, partner, Jordan+Bateman Architects

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