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Some of Europe's brightest architectural lights have been brought together to design the next generation of prefab housing - an initiative that has already been dubbed architecture's answer to Airbus.

The unique pan-European programme will see a number of hand-picked practices team up with manufacturers and academics across the continent to develop new modular construction methods, the AJ can reveal.

Funded by the European Commission, the ManuBuild project kicks off with an ideas competition stage with the aim of producing new 'integrated' schemes which can reduce construction costs by half and cut time on site by 70 per cent.

The proposals also have to be affordable, exible and 'architecturally rich'.

This combined research will form the starting point for a new, exemplar 'industrialised' residential scheme for Madrid's housing department which will, if successful, be rolled out across the globe.

The final schemes to be taken forward will be revealed in Amsterdam on 9 May.

Among the five British practices specially selected to work on the project are three of the AJ's 40 Under 40 starlets - Surface Architects, Piercy Conner and Amin Taha Architects. The others are Feilden Clegg Bradley and Llewelyn Davies Yeang.

Some major players from British construction have also signed up. Taylor Woodrow, steel giant Corus and CIRIA are involved in the scheme.

France's Lacaton & Vassal, Spain's Carlos Ferrater, Francisco Jurado and José Maria De Lapuerta as well as Austria's Baumschlager-Eberle ZT and Dutchman Kees Christiaanse are also expected to participate.

'It's very useful for us to be invited on to this 'paid-for' research in the guise of a competition, ' said Taha.

'We have been looking at a number of prefabrication systems for timber, steel and concrete, and this allows us to rationalise those for a site in Madrid with the intent of pursuing a construction method that is predominantly dictated by a closed manufacturing system'.

Matthew Teague, of Corus, said the scheme could lead to true Airbus-style pan-European collaboration. He said: 'There's no reason why we couldn't build the wings and somebody else build the fuselage.'

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