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Architects must embrace modular or end up ‘sad old Jedi knights’


Architects must engage with modular housing or end up like ‘sad old Jedi knights in the corner of the room’, according to Waugh Thistleton’s Andrew Waugh 

Speaking at a negroni-fuelled New London Architecture (NLA) debate on factory-made housing in east London, the cross-laminated timber pioneer argued that the construction method was ‘the future’. 

‘If architects refuse to take on the notion of factory-made housing they will get made anyway,’ he said. ‘Architects will become increasingly sidelined or redundant, like some sad old Jedi knights in the corner of the room.’

Also taking part in the debate were Zaha Hadid principal Patrik Schumacher, DSDHA’s Deborah Saunt and Adam Architecture’s George Saumarez Smith. The event, run by architectural studio fourth_space, was held at the canalside Ombra bar in Hackney. 

Schumacher said he was excited about factory-made homes, but added he had some concerns about the current ‘architectural expression’ in modular housing.

‘I’m totally excited about the space but also worried it will lack urban and spatial quality if it’s just endless repetition of small cells together.’

But arguing against modular, Saunt said ‘stacking’ seemed to be the only way at the moment that modular housing is possible. ‘I’m firmly against the stacking camp as an urbanist and as a designer.’

’I’ve made factory-made buildings with CLT but they are highly bespoke and clad in bespoke cladding. I like the buildings I work on to be made rather than assembled’. 

Also in the ‘against’ camp, Saumarez Smith argued that the high-quality modular schemes in London relied on inflated house prices – a model not replicable across the UK. 

In response, Waugh said that the argument was not whether or not modular would happen, but whether or not the profession was involved.

‘For the architecture profession to see themselves as only involved in a building craft environment, then what will happen is that engineers and others will take these dire housing needs we see across the globe and produce mass housing.’


Readers' comments (3)

  • It would be interesting to know why IKEA's much heralded initiatives in modular housing a few years ago didn't come to much, if anything - in this country, at least.

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  • Until the modularists can compete with the off-site cut/on-site assembly process then their future is by no means assured.
    Add in the issues of time, flexibility, customization, and I believe the pre-fab industry is destined to become but a niche competitor.
    Further, the almost religious fealty to the cult of CLT will, as with most splendid, marvellous and revolutionary ideas, surely flicker out once the shortcomings of mega sized sheets of plywood become apparent.

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  • Industry Professional

    For the same reason that they sell more flat packed furniture than preassembled Robert, as is noted by Ian. Moving large complete modular units to site from the factory is too costly and difficult compared to moving and erecting large but sectional components and the overall programme savings are not great enough to compensate.
    An increase in 'lego kit' building is far more likely than the wholesale introduction of a full modular approach for anything beyond the size of a standard shipping container.

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