The Benefits of Reusable and Modular Constructions

Mario HonrubiaInnovationSustainability3D Printing

Written by Agostinho Mendonça In August 2018, ennomotive launched a challenge that looked for a solution to place a mesh inside an underground mining tunnel. For 6 weeks, 46 engineers from 22 countries accepted the challenge and submitted different solutions. After a thorough evaluation, the solutions that best met the evaluation criteria were submitted by Agostinho Mendonça, from Portugal, Íñigo Núñez, from Spain, and Fritz Van Eeden, from South Africa.  In this article, Agostinho shares with us what the benefits of reused and modular constructions are.    The economic, social and environmental impact of construction has driven to industry transformations, both looking to increase productivity and to contribute to more sustainable constructions. Within these transformations, there are some construction methods related to prefabrication, modularization and reused constructions. In this text, after listing some advantages and challenges of those construction methods, are presented some cases that illustrate their main characteristics.

Actual global megatrends motivate a rethink of the construction classical practices. Although this industry accounts for about 6% of the global GDP, construction has continued operating the same way for the past decades. As a result, productivity has stagnated. Climate change, resources depletion, a widening talent gap, and actual rapid urbanization are but a few of these trends. Is in this context, where over 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions are produced by buildings and construction is the first consumer of global raw materials, this industry is undergoing profound transformations. Among others, there is robotization and 3D printing, which require also new business models and new construction methods for productivity increase. Modular construction and prefabrication play an important role here, and so does the concept of reuse, which follows modern trends by allowing more efficient and sustainable constructions. Reuse is a larger term and, with prefabrication and modularization, the concept could also be extended to the reuse of construction components, which is at a higher level of efficiency and sustainability. Prefabrication and modularization are processes that were used for centuries by the construction industry, and its reemergence as a “new” trend is tied to the rise of BIM and green building. The benefits of using prefabrication and modularization on key industry productivity metrics include project schedules savings, fewer onsite resources, costs, safety, quality, eliminating waste, and creating green buildings. Besides the benefits, these methods have some challenges associated, like the early commitment to engineering and design work, increased transportation requirements, and the limited number of providers.

At this section, some examples of the unlimited possibilities achievable with prefabrication and modularization are presented, namely modular and reusable special structures, small modular houses and sports reusable facilities.
  • Special structures

The military bridges are a classical example of prefabrication, modular and reuse applied to a special structure. They were used in the armies from the ancient states (with known examples used in Assyria, ancient Egypt or ancient Greece) and during the times have been developed many types of bridges that followed the advances in technology and material knowledge. Besides that, they always are built using standard, or local, materials, and typically are simple and easy to transport. Other important characteristics are the speed with which bridges can be erected by minimal forces, the adaptability of bridge materials and structural elements for use in different kinds of obstacles, the minimum vulnerability, and simplicity of repair under field conditions. All of them are common to an efficient actual design applying prefabrication and modularization. An interesting example that illustrates that principle is a self-supporting bridge designed by Leonardo da Vinci, whose simplicity and genius cannot be underestimated. It requires no specific skills to manufacture the components, apart from a few men that are handy with an ax. It can also be carried by a handful of men into any battlefield and no requires nails or ropes to hold it together once the bridge is self-supporting and would be capable of holding a substantial amount of weight passing over (see [3]).
  • Modular houses

With the world’s urban population increase, the demand for affordable housing is a pressing issue for many cities today. Consequently, the cost of housing will probably rise and houses will likely get smaller. Following these trends, numerous proposals have been made for micro and modular houses. As an example, there are two options mentioned below. Building Blocks is an open-source exploration of future spaces promoted by IKEA that is applicable globally, and that could be manufactured locally, suiting several landscapes, cultures, and needs. Moreover visually, it should suit different surroundings without looking misplaced and be able to work properly on different locations without depending on the topographic or climate conditions. Additionally, it has the ability to later be transformed, to meet new needs, by removing or adding new pieces (see [4]). A similar model is the case of the micro-home designed by the Milan-based firm IB Studio that is transportable and adaptable to virtually any climate. The structure named Casa Ojalá allows the space to be configured into as many as 20 different layouts (see [5]).
  • Disassemblable structures

During 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, football fans will have the opportunity to enjoy the stunning views of Doha's skyscrapers and be marveled at the unique Ras Abu Aboud Stadium. Its design concept results in a good cost-efficient arena with an elegant curved square form (see [6]). This innovative stadium will also allow it to be completely disassembled after the World Cup. Precisely, many elements of the arena, including all 40,000 seats, the containers and even the roof, will be reused, providing valuable infrastructures to sports and non-sports projects elsewhere. This concept was also applied during the London 2012 Olympics where some structures were designed with permanent and non-permanent elements that were dismantled after the Games (see [7]). Both cases set a new standard in sustainability and introduce bold new ideas in tournament legacy planning. By considering the temporary nature of these structures modular design, fewer building materials will be required than in traditional construction, helping to keep their costs down. With the reuse of some components on new projects, also a more sustainable construction will be achieved.

Here I have presented some structures made by different materials where modularization, prefabrication, and the right use of the resources have led to more flexible, economical and sustainable constructions. From the cases, the advantages and the potential of those methods are clear, in a time where the needs are enormous and the global resources are limited. The future challenge is the pursuing of smart designs where the possibility of prefabrication, modularization, and reuse could contribute to a productivity increase, cost reduction and, globally, to the minimization of the construction impact. By smart design, we must understand simple and feasible structures where modular construction meets the needs and simultaneously produces aesthetically attractive constructions that capture the view. An example of a successful project of this type is the new Manhattan AC Hotel Nomad that will be the tallest modular hotel in the United States (see [8]). The building is already being manufactured and leverages all of the efficiencies gets from the construction in a factory but with architectonic identity and unique expressiveness. Let us know other benefits of modular constructions and explore what ennomotive has to offer. Join our community of engineers


[1] McGraw-Hill Construction (2011) – Prefabrication and Modularization: Increasing Productivity in the Construction Industry. [2] World Economic Forum (2017) – Shaping the Future of Construction: Inspiring innovators redefine the industry. Internet links accessed June 2019: [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8]