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In-situ concrete wins this argument, with concrete processing plants in many major towns and cities. Timber frame is more widely available than it has been in the past, with some large UK-based companies producing thousands of units per year. But much of the timber we use is imported. UK-produced timber is generally too soft for structural use, and has to be turned into another product to be useful. What will happen to that overseas supply chain if Brexit bites?


Skills


There is a general issue with skills in the UK industry, with a lot of experienced workers due to retire. Brexit will make it harder to attract lower skilled workers from overseas. After all, isn’t that the main point of the whole sorry mess? To replace the lost workforce we need new skills to replace them, and I can’t see scores of UK’s youth willingly picking up a hod and trowel – so we need to be designing buildings to be manufactured, and enabling the prefabrication sector to grow to add capacity now, and to fill the gap in the workforce in the near future.


Suitability for manufacturing If we are going to major on prefabrication, where should we be putting our effort? The answer is: all of them! All of the ‘big six’ materials have different benefits, and all are major winners in some circumstances. Timber frame is ideal for low-rise housing and is forgiving of a low-skilled workforce. Light gauge steel is also excellent for low rise, but it needs to be put together by a team that knows what it is doing. Precast concrete excels at putting up a robust structure quickly, and in situ is very forgiving of a complex building type, with a lot of variations in structure and layout. Hot rolled steel can go very high, without complaint, and leaves much of the floor plate free. It is also the best for prefabrication, being the basic material for most large construction factories worldwide. Even better, many of the materials can be put together – concrete cores with steel frames, mass timber walls with concrete floors, steel columns and concrete panels, etc. We are at the beginning of an exciting period in the development of prefabrication worldwide, it’s going to put architects under pressure to be more knowledgeable about manufacturing and construction than we


We are at the beginning of an exciting period in the development of offsite prefabrication worldwide


needed to in the past. It’s a lot like the early days of Modernism where Le Corbusier recognised the possibilities of concrete construction in the Domino House. Architects should embrace the opportunity now and use it to develop expertise in how buildings are made. This will lead to a new generation of practices skilled in designing for manufacture and assembly, whose expertise will be in demand for the foreseeable future.


Materials for Architecture is a conference and exhibition dedicated to innovation in the application of materials in building design. It’s being held on 25-26 April at ILEC in London. For more information, visit: www.materialsforarchitecture.com


Rory Bergin is partner, Sustainable Futures, at HTA Design


9


ADF APRIL 2018


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