A watershed moment for industrialized construction: DIRTT shares why more architects are opting for prefab for interior space.
When Andrew Martinez sits down with an architect to provide build options for an interior space, the wow factor usually comes early in the conversation these days.
As director of operations at Chicago-based Accelerate Built Environments, Martinez has been having more meetings with architecture firms wanting to understand how prefabricated interior systems offer layout choices for day one, two, or three, with options to change workstations or conference rooms easily.
“For an architect to visually see that we can create two or three separate floor plans with the same material makes it a lot easier to understand the benefit [of prefab],” he says. “The more times you’re going to reconfigure this space, the more and more you’re going to save, and the bigger value you’re going to get from it.”
By seeing multiple floor plans from the same prefab bill of materials, many architects realize they have total design freedom, allowing them to think about the whole space, from the ceiling to the floor.
Prefabricated interior solutions have become particularly attractive since the pandemic forced many organizations to rethink how they use space now, and in the future. Furthermore, the need to build flexible interior space that is aesthetically beautiful is critical to bring people back to a workplace that is seen as a destination, not an obligation.
The push to making interior space adaptable
According to a 2020 Dodge Data & Analytics report, architects (surveyed alongside engineers) are beginning to understand the positive influence prefabrication can have on areas like cost control which, as the report states, “should lead to more development of design solutions that consciously enable it.”
The report says about 80% to 90% of architects and engineers surveyed saw benefits from modular and prefabricated construction in several important categories: improved quality, schedule certainty, better cost predictability, higher productivity, less waste, and increased client satisfaction.
Discussion around using prefabricated components in an interior space is part of the larger move to industrialized construction, where mechanization and automation are used to build prefabricated components in a factory before being shipped and assembled on a jobsite. The components thus become part of an interior system that offers solutions for every part of the built environment, from floor to ceiling.
Interior construction and design expert Brandis Baldwin has seen firsthand how prefabrication can convert even the most stalwart conventional construction professional.
“My favorite part of my job is the shock and awe factor that happens when we bring in clients to see a project,” says Baldwin, manager of DIRTT Interior Construction at interior design company Pigott. “Being able to share that finished project with people — that’s when the magic happens.”
Most of her GC and architecture clients in Des Moines, Iowa, are lured in by the promise of speed, quality, and lower total cost that come with prefabricated interior construction. But Baldwin says architects become true believers when they also see how prefab makes their space more flexible to adapt to continuous change, including the growing use of technology which can be embedded in prefabricated walls and floors.
“Lead times and cost are what gets you a seat at the table, but once people realize that they have the opportunity to do that future-proofing, it becomes a huge part of the benefit they are getting by going prefab,” she said.
As many spaces reopen to employees, students and the general public, Baldwin is seeing more requests from organizations looking to create new environments that people want to come back to.
“Even though we all have learned to work, learn, and do other activities from home, people need to meet to accomplish tasks or just feed their soul, which comes from interacting with people,” she says.
Building with prefabricated interior components doesn’t sacrifice design aesthetic
For many architects and designers, flexibility and speed of build are the driving forces behind selecting prefabricated, modular interiors.
While some designers historically shied away from prefab because it was perceived as being cookie-cutter and lacked a high-quality design aesthetic, those perceptions are now long gone.
“There is no sacrifice in aesthetic or function by using a prefab model,” says Martinez.
Martine McCluskey, Director of Intellistruct at Bialek Environments, says architects and designers now benefit from both flexibility and beauty when it comes to building interior space.
“Clients really see this as a way of bringing aesthetics into a space that they didn’t have the opportunity to before for the flexible product,” she says.
McCluskey says prefabrication is a term more people understand now than they did in the past, and that is going to lead to an increase in use for interior space.
“I think we are at the watershed moment for manufactured construction,” she says. “People truly understand it.”