A new mindset: MMC & homes.


Alan Featherstone, Senior Associate

Away from mass-produced boxes.

Approximately 300,000 new homes are needed annually in the UK.

The struggle to reach that target in recent years, alongside challenging market conditions, a looming skills shortage, and net-zero-carbon aims, means the sector needs a different way of doing things… and fast.

Thankfully, Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) has begun to move into mainstream thinking in the UK’s residential sector and offers a promising solution.

MMC has gradually grown over recent years, with clients, designers, and contractors keen to explore the numerous benefits it can offer if done well: cost, improved productivity, quality, sustainability targets and site safety.

However, there is a need to go further and deeper, especially as MMC will play an important part in achieving the industry’s net-zero-carbon targets. It offers potential benefits when addressing embodied carbon and fabric air tightness, and also goes hand in hand with digitisation transformation.

Many of our clients’ designs now have MMC enshrined from the outset. The decisions needed to maximise the benefits of MMC need to be made early in order to get the biggest benefits in mass production.

MMC means the mindset of a building project needs to differ from one where it is considered separate and distinct, to one where it’s considered a product that allows repeatability over multiple plots.

Early design Stage considerations.

This early stage thinking needs to factor in how services can be integrated within standardised elements such as:

– Core types

– Apartment types

– Pods including bathrooms, kitchens and service cupboards

– Stacking arrangements

We are increasingly developing ‘pattern books’, which mostly consist of a number of typical cores, pods, service cupboards and apartment types with standardised MEP designs coordinated with the design team. These provide the repeatability needed to maximise the benefits of off-site manufacture whilst retaining some flexibility across a client’s portfolio. This exercise is typically undertaken with early engagement from the supply chain and contractors to ensure that the proposals have buildability enshrined from the outset.

Interestingly, we have found that the integration of services with structure is much more important for MMC than traditional builds, and is where the early design of services can add most value.

Coordinated thinking between our acoustic, fire, sustainability engineers and the core design team is also vital for the success of an MMC product. Our digital capability is focused on supporting MMC through items such as our service zone tool and iSchematics, all of which help inform the key early design decisions.

…and it’s not about mass produced rectangular boxes!   

Whilst we have extensive experience working with contractors helping to produce their services designs for manufacture and assembly (DfMA), MMC doesn’t mean that uniform rectangular boxes have to be built to realise the benefits. If you can get the right team in place early in a project, there is always potential for off-site pre-fabrication.

Award-winning MMC in action.

Gasholders in London is very much a unique building which, on the surface, doesn’t appear to lend itself to MMC techniques.

Images: Courtesy of SES Engineering Services.

However, a large proportion of the services within the building are pre-fabricated including plant, risers, horizontal distribution and apartment utility cupboards. Much is owed to the early design providing sufficient flexibility in build approach, as well as engaging an MEP sub-contractor (in this case SES Engineering Services) with the skills to pre-fabricate off-site.

The speed and accuracy of the installation on-site led to a truly high-quality end product that still feels creative and unique.