Terms and definitions on affordable and sustainable housing *

Industrialised Construction

Area: Design, planning and building

Industrialised Construction, also referred to as Modern Methods of Construction in the UK (Ministry of Housing, 2019) and Conceptueel Bouwen (Conceptual Building) in the Netherlands (NCB, n.d.), is a broad and dynamic term encompassing innovative techniques and processes that are transforming the construction industry (Lessing, 2006; Smith & Quale, 2017). It is a product-based approach that reinforces continuous improvement, rather than a project-based one, and emphasises the use of standardised components and systems to improve build quality and achieve sustainability goals (Kieran & Timberlake, 2004).  Industrialised Construction can be based on using a kit-of parts and is often likened to a LEGO set, as well as the automotive industry's assembly line and lean production. Industrialisation in the construction sector presents a paradigm shift, driven by advancements in technology (Bock & Linner, 2015). It involves both off-site and on-site processes, with a significant portion occurring in factory-controlled conditions (Andersson & Lessing, 2017). Off-site construction entails the prefabrication of building components manufactured using a combination of two-dimensional (2D), three-dimensional (3D), and hybrid methods, where traditional construction techniques meet cutting-edge technologies such as robotic automation. Industrialised construction is not limited to off-site production, it also encompasses on-site production, including the emerging use of 3D printing or the deployment of temporary or mobile factories. Industrialised Construction increasingly leverages digital and industry 4.0 technologies, such as Building Information Modelling (BIM), Internet of Things, big data, and predictive analysis (Qi et al., 2021). These processes and digital tools enable accurate planning, simulation, and optimisation of construction processes, resulting in enhanced productivity, quality, and resource management. It is important to stress that Industrialised Construction is not only about the physical construction methods, but also the intangible processes involved in the design and delivery of buildings. Industrialised construction offers several benefits across economic, social, and environmental dimensions. From an economic perspective, it reduces construction time and costs in comparison to traditional methods, while providing safer working conditions and eliminates delays due to adverse weather. By employing standardisation and efficient manufacturing processes, it enables affordable and social housing projects to be delivered in a shorter timeframe through economies of scale (Frandsen, 2017). On the social front, Industrialised Construction can enable mass customisation and customer-centric approaches, to provide more flexible solutions while maintaining economic feasibility (Piller, 2004). From an environmental standpoint, industrialised construction minimises waste generation during production by optimising material usage and facilitates the incorporation of Design for Disassembly (Crowther, 2005) and the potential reusability of building elements, promoting both flexibility and a Circular Economy (EC, 2020). This capability aligns with the principles of cradle-to-cradle design, wherein materials and components are continuously repurposed to reduce resource depletion and waste accumulation. Challenges remain in terms of overcoming misconceptions and gaining social acceptance, the slow digital transformation of the construction industry, high factory set-up costs, the lack of interdisciplinary integration of stakeholders from the initial stages, and adapting to unconventional workflows. However, Industrialised Construction will undoubtedly shape the future of the built environment, providing solutions for the increasing demand for sustainable and affordable housing (Bertram et al., 2019).

Created on 09-11-2023

Author: C.Martín (ESR14), A.Davis (ESR1)


* This vocabulary consists of definitions of key terms related to the combined research conducted by the 15 early-stage researchers. Each term has multiple definitions, each connected to one of the three main research areas: Design, Construction and Planning; Community Involvement; and Policy and Funding.

The joint construction of this vocabulary allows the researchers' projects to be interwoven. As such, the vocabulary is a tool for conducting transdisciplinary research on affordable and sustainable housing.

Entries are reviewed by RE-DWELL researchers and supervisors. The vocabulary is updated regularly.