Offsite construction of plug-n-play units expanding across many building types
Order a house from a catalog? Yep! Sears started offering kit homes in its 1902 big book, so the idea of building modular is more than 100 years old. Stepping up in scale, the Contemporary Hotel at Walt Disney World in Orlando, which opened in 1971, was one of the first commercial structures to use a prefabbed steel chassis on which 500 guest room modules were craned up and hung.
Today, it seems the idea of offsite construction of modular units is beginning to surge. Key markets include: Healthcare, multi-family housing, higher-education housing and hospitality.
The rise may be particularly conducive to maintaining a construction schedule in the face of increasing labor shortages.
The looming Silver Tsunami
In the recent Building Design + Construction (BD+C) article, a construction executive said that many of those working in the trades are retiring – part of the looming Silver Tsunami – and there are fewer workers coming into the skilled trades.
Prefabrication will be increasingly be used to offset the decline in skilled workers, as well as in markets where a large number of projects soak up the shrinking pool or tradespeople.
Bathrooms are a good fit for prefabbing
The BD+C article goes on to say:
In order to receive the full benefits of designing and building with prefabrication techniques, such as bathroom pods, AEC firms should eye projects with repetitive layouts – hotels, student residence halls, inpatient towers, etc. “The more repetition, the more value in prefabricating, said Ray Rigsby, project executive with Gilbane Building Co. “Any building type that has repetitive floor plans lends itself to prefabrication.”
Part of the upswing in prefab pods comes with the rise in BIM, which allows for much greater precision in overall fit – not only within the unit as well as into the overall building structure.
Another gain comes from all players – architect, contractor and pod supplier – performing a BIM conflict analysis to eliminate potential clashes.
Goodbye, boring cookie cutter bathroom design
In 2016, Cincinnati’s’ Christ Hospital Joint and Spine Center completed a $280 million project to renovate the hospital’s main campus.
In a report in Healthcare Facilities Today, the magazine reported that “The 87 patient rooms on three floors each contain a bathroom built offsite by Pivotek, a Cincinnati based company specializing in prefabricated bathrooms.”
Arthur Cantwell, the design professional who handled interiors for Skidmore Ownings Merrill on the Christ Hospital project said they spent a lot of time on the details. “Niches for the sinks and showers defined the space better, he said, and every room had enough turning radius for a wheelchair.
This last point is echoed in other articles about prefab bathrooms – the time to find out about failures in ADA tolerances is not once the unit’s in place – the caution then is: Think ADA from design concept through BIM modeling all the way through installation of the pod. Collaborate, collaborate, and collaborate some more.
Taking prefab bathroom design to school
Earlier we mentioned student residence halls as prime, fertile ground for bathroom pods. One example is Wallbridge Construction, which employed pods in its construction of the Munger Graduate Residence at the University of Michigan. The project was recognized with a 2016 Construction and Design Award by the Engineering Society of Detroit.
Walbridge manufactured 730 bathroom units at a site 10 miles west of Ann Arbor, where 34 tradespeople fabricated five different models, including ADA accessible units. Each bathroom has a fully enclosed shower, toilet, sink, quartz top, cabinetry, light fixtures and medicine cabinet.
After flooding the floor of each unit with an inch of water and monitoring it for any leakage for 24 hours, units were drained, completed, shrink wrapped, and transported by truck to the job site on campus.
Inpro’s Endurant® division played an integral role in the Munger Hall project by providing the units with BioPrism®Solid Surface solutions, including shower surrounds and bases (receptors).
Interested in learning more about bathroom and shower design trends and concepts? Visit our library of industry White Papers that break down a variety of material options, bathroom solutions and design trends.
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