Prefabricated buildings – older than you might think!

11th September 2014

Prefabrication is a technique used in a variety of industries, as components are manufactured in a factory, which may be assembled into a finished unit and transported as a total package, or may be dispatched as parts for final assembly on site. The prefabrication process is particularly useful in the construction sector where prefabricated buildings are used when a fast reliable solution is needed. The use of prefabricated buildings is not, as might be thought, a modern concept and the use of prefabrication as a building method in fact dates back to the nineteenth century.

Prefabricated building origins

Prefabricated buildings are often required where there is a shortage of conventional types of building. This was the case in Australia in the mid-1830s and to help solve the problem a London carpenter designed a house that was shipped in components for reassembly by the Australian emigrants. A testament to the longevity of these buildings lies in the fact that some of them are still standing today.

Perhaps one of the most significant uses for a prefabricated building came about during the Crimean War. Three of the great icons of the Victorian period were involved as Florence Nightingale wrote to the Times requesting help in building a new hospital. No less an engineer than Isambard Kingdom Brunel was commissioned to create a prefabricated building suitable for the purpose. A fully functioning prefabricated hospital was sent to the Crimea, with the capacity to house 1,000 patients. Whilst it was only in use for 18 months its success can be measured by the death rate of its inhabitants which dropped from 42% to just 3.5%.

War unfortunately often creates an urgent need for accommodation, both for military personnel and for those people who have lost their homes as a consequence of warfare. The Second World War saw a big rise in the use of prefabricated buildings which were able to replace housing lost in the bombing campaigns. Up to the end of the 1940s there were around 160,000 prefab homes built in the UK with the largest number in a single location being built on an estate in Liverpool. Although these prefabricated were only meant to be a short term solution they lasted much longer, indeed the Liverpool estate was finally demolished in the 1960’s much against the residents’ wishes.

Prefabricated buildings today

The use of prefabrication is modern buildings has moved on from the more utilitarian concept of their predecessors. The use of environmentally friendly materials and sophisticated styles of construction mean they can be customized to adapt to the location and the customer requirements. There have been examples some of this type of building on various house building programmes which show the variety of the quite often large scale buildings that are available in the market.

The commercial sector has seen a significant growth in the use of prefabricated buildings in the past decades. They have many advantages over traditional bricks and mortar buildings including the capacity to be in place and working in a short period of time. This is the reason that there has been a rise in the use in such sectors as fast food restaurants and supermarkets, as well as warehouses and factories.

Prefabricated buildings for commercial use are usually engineered using either a steel of aluminium frame. Both methods have qualities to recommend them, steel is strong but has a potential to suffer from corrosion, whereas aluminium is a lighter material but has a high tolerance to corrosion. Using these materials as sub frames in a building means a wide range of options of walling and roofing can be used to suit the operational requirements.

The big advantage of a commercial prefabricated building over a traditionally built one is the speed with which it is constructed. There are big savings to be made both in time and overall cost when using a prefabricated building, and using this type of building means returns on investment can be seen a lot faster than for a conventional building.

The prefabricated building has evolved with the times, being more green and sustainable than in the past, using recyclable materials and constructed to maximize building efficiency they have a lot to recommend them to those looking for more operational space.

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