How did modular construction come about?
We can trace the roots of modular construction back to the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s when cafes on wheels served quick meals to factory workers. Then, as people bought cars and ventured farther from home on the newly constructed interstate roadway system, prefabricated diners served food to motorists and truck drivers.
In the fall of 1942, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers acquired vast tracts of land in remote areas of three states to advance the development of the atomic bomb. The Army quickly assembled modular buildings to house the teams supporting the project.
Architects experimented with suburban living at the 1967 World Expo by building a 12-story apartment out of 354 identical prefabricated concrete forms. The stacked cubes made 146 units of cost-effective housing that resulted in the population density of a modern urban apartment in a suburban setting. The stacked apartments were intended to be an affordable solution to housing, but their popularity drove prices up.
Walt Disney World® accomplishes a magical overnight transition from Halloween to Christmas with the help of modular construction. When the parks close on October 31, an overnight crew unloads modular trailers of decorations and assembles a 65-foot-tall Christmas tree section-by-section. In fewer than seven hours, the crew transforms the park to attract visitors and drive revenue.
The COVID-19 pandemic put modular construction in the headlines. Pictures of testing stations made of shipping containers and hospitals pieced together in a matter of days demonstrated the efficiency of modular units.
As the execution of modular construction changes, its popularity grows, with more architecture and engineering firms offering modular building solutions. The American Institute of Architects’ guide to off-site construction, “Design for Modular Construction,” signals that architects find creativity, quality, and efficiency in modular construction.