Working With Modular

It is often difficult to tell the difference in character between two objects unless you look very closely, such as a real diamond verses a good imitation. The same can be said for modular verses traditional construction. Unless you look very closely, and in some cases unless you look at the plans or see the building during construction, it is difficult to tell the difference between the two design and construction approaches.

Modular and precast construction are both becoming more attractive options as administrators seek to reduce a project’s cost, schedule, and construction sprawl. The keys to a successful modular project are to discuss delivery options early and to be fully educated regarding modular design requirements.

Modular in the Marketplace
Kullman Buildings Corp. manufactures structural steel and concrete-framed modular buildings, and works with colleges and universities of all sizes to meet their project requirements. Rich Smith, the company’s senior vice president, says that the use of modular buildings for higher education projects is increasing. “Modular construction offers many benefits, including the ability to reduce a project’s cost, schedule, and construction sprawl compared to traditional construction. More institutions and their architects are interested in modular as a way to address a variety of project needs.”

In particular, Kullman’s clients have used modular design and construction for residence hall, office, and classroom projects. For example, a residence hall project at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA, illustrates the use and benefits of modular construction in the higher education marketplace. Officials at the college wanted to construct five six-unit dormitories during the summer — when it is easier to construct a facility due to decreased activity on campus — and selected modular construction to meet that requirement. The 41,000-sq.-ft. project was efficiently completed before the start of the fall term, and necessitated minor disruptions to the flow of campus traffic during construction.

No matter what the application, Smith says that the decision to use modular, like any design approach, must be made as early in the project as possible, which allows cost, quality, and schedule benefits to be maximized.

“An increasing number of administrators and architects are requesting information on modular construction for their projects,” Smith stated. “The earlier we talk with them, the more we can maximize the benefits.”

Smith further states that his company works diligently to educate architects and administrators regarding the benefits of modular construction before a project is even on the horizon, which allows an institution to evaluate a traditional construction verses a modular approach very early. This effort includes providing both groups with information regarding modular sizes and structural guidelines, detailing how modules are assembled and finished, and discussing transportation requirements for the modules.

Education also includes teaching architects and their clients that modular construction offers the same design freedom as traditional design and construction. “There is no difference in design aesthetics between modular and traditional construction,” Smith said. “In fact, when a project is completed it is difficult to identify modular construction from other construction delivery methods.”

Design That Works
Michelle Cunningham, vice president of marketing and business development for Williams Scotsman, agrees with Smith’s assertion regarding modular’s design attributes. “A modular project’s design can match any campus aesthetic, including brick, wood, stonework, or stucco,” she said. “A project is finished on site after the modules are placed on the foundation and exterior materials and details are applied to either match those of surrounding buildings or to establish a new design aesthetic on campus. Architects have a great deal of expression and design freedom.”

Officials at Loyola Marymount University (LMU) in Los Angeles elected to use a modular approach when constructing a new administrative and classroom building. Facility personnel had to provide space for a new campus library, which required the demolition and relocation of a permanent building housing offices and classrooms.

“We worked with LMU administrators and facility personnel to develop a modular solution for the required 10,000-sq.-ft. office and classroom building,” said Cunningham. “The design uses 14 12-ft. by 16-ft. modules that can be expanded or reconfigured internally to meet changing requirements.”

Cunningham notes that construction at LMU, as with any college or university campus, requires extensive knowledge regarding both the overall campus plan and current construction projects. “One of modular’s advantages is that it minimizes the operating footprint during construction, which provides improved workflow and safety on an active campus. Our construction sprawl or staging area at LMU was very small compared to traditional construction, which was important since they had so much going on. Modular is an optimum solution for many higher education projects.”