Cost, context and carbon: MMC has the power to transform housing, we just need a collective will.
The opportunity, challenges, and barriers to the wider adoption of Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) has been well documented over the past few years. From Mark Farmers report in 2016, Modernise or Die — evaluating the construction industry’s vulnerability to skills shortages- to the Design for Manufacturing and Assembly Overlay to the RIBA Plan of Work in 2021. However, despite this heightened focus and desire to adopt new ways to design and deliver across the industry, our march towards large-scale change is still slow. This is why the Grimshaw-hosted BusinessLDN Modern methods of Construction (MMC) roundtable with the Greater London Authority (GLA) generated a stimulating discussion on the way forward for London. It was clear from those gathered around the table from the design and construction industry, that MMC had the power to transform our construction industry and specifically address the housing issue. The key question still remains however, is there a collective will?
Collective is the operative word. Construction sector investment – developing technologies and systems required for effective deployment of MMC on all scales — ultimately needs the support, the coming together of local, regional and national government, aggregating demand and driving new legislation and standards. The Construction Innovation Hub draft Product Platform Handbook, of which Grimshaw is an industry research partner, goes some way to meeting this need: offering a route to bring together construction, clients and the supply chain to adopt more standardised parts and processes by using a product platform.
What is maybe needed first, however is a focus on the benefits of, and ultimate outcomes of, adopting MMC: the carbon and cost savings and the contextual application of the solutions.
Again, these are all well-documented as part of the ongoing discourse on MMC adoption. The carbon savings enabled through MMC and through the adoption of Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) approaches, can be incredible – from materials selection, through to the application of economy at scale, and the reduction in site operations and waste. In short MMC has a potentially massive role to play in radically reducing the construction sector’s impact on the climate crisis and needs to evolve to become the preferable route over traditional construction. However, legislation around materials, such as timber, is only serving to set the industry back and needs a more evidence-based approach.
Aligned to this, bringing more certainty to the industry supply chain, the GLA along with other regional governments also have a role to play in aggregating demand to provide the volumes of work that will ultimately bring economies of scale. This in turn reduces costs in production and material which in the current climate of inflationary pressures, skills shortages and high material costs, will again help accelerate adoption. The launch of the GLA Buyers Club and MMC Framework seems an excellent step towards this, with local authorities, including London Brough of Enfield, bringing together their housing demand pipelines.
Finally, and arguably, most importantly, is context: where and how MMC can be integrated in the fabric of London and development of places that are fit for our communities on a social, environmental and economic level. MMC is still considered as a one size fits all however with increased adoption comes increased flexibility, and the public and private residential market as well as our planning authorities have the opportunity to be united in the ambition: selecting sites more specifically on their suitability to MMC. Tight urban heritage sites may not lend to MMC compared to less sensitive post-industrial brownfield sites. Grimshaw’s collaboration with St William Homes, where the Berkeley Modular system is being integrated into a residential development of a former gasworks site, is an example of the success of this approach. Working together, the modular system, regardless of mix and tenure across the 700 homes is being adopted and set in context. In that scheme, as in the BusinessLDN roundtable discussions, there is a collective will to transform our housing delivery through MMC. We just need to keep the focus, and push for change together.