A New Perspective: How Off-Site Modular Construction Weds Design Elegance with Cost-Saving Modern Construction Techniques

| September 25, 2017

by Mark Durkin

The New Wow Factor Associated with Standardized and Boxy but Functional Structures like Classroom Overflow Units

DIRRTT Modular solutions

Get ready to be wowed. New technologies in design software, manufacturing techniques, and materials have converged to create new design opportunities. Here are just a few of the possibilities:

  • Customized and nonstandard architectural shapes (interior and exterior) can be manufactured on computer-driven machinery and replicated at reasonable costs.
  • A virtually endless choice of materials, including finish materials for interiors, is available.
  • Embedded technologies (flat screen TVs, monitors, iPad docking stations, and security, video, and audio systems) can be incorporated into the manufactured interiors.
  • Corporate branding and art work can be component parts of the manufactured solutions.
  • Plants can be hung and nurtured on wall systems that circulate water.

Increased sustainability and flexibility are key components of interior modular solutions. Employing modular interior construction allows landlords to easily adjust configurations to meet the changing needs of tenants, increasing the marketability of properties. New embedded technologies, electrical, and plumbing components can be added to modular construction systems by simply popping off the exterior wall tile to access the interior wall cavity. This agility has become a top priority in the industry.

Pivot door/ all photos:  DIRTT Modular solutions


According to Julie Whelan, head of occupier research with CBRE, “For the second year of this survey, we are seeing a continued trend across industries and geographies where real estate executives are seeking greater operational flexibility as a top strategy to add value across their real estate portfolios.”[i] Modular interior construction allows for the rapid reconfiguration of space to meet the changing ways we use interior workspace, from open co-working space, to incorporating private rooms, and to changing the look and feel of a space, as needed. Tenants can quite literally pack up their interior walls and relocate them to a new space when they choose to.

Cost savings, time savings, and environmental benefits

Much has been written about the potential of off-site modular construction for cost-savings in the form of reduced waste and increased efficiency.[ii] These are measurably real, but they are not the only savings. Off-site modular construction reduces the risks associated with standard construction and provides a leaner, clean, and more open field construction site. It addresses the challenges of workforce shortages by reducing the need for skilled labor. In traditional construction, the ratio of labor to materials cost is generally 70% to 30%. Modular construction turns this ratio on its head, with 30% of the cost in labor and 70% in materials. Off-site construction is also beneficial for the environment by reducing manufacturing and construction site waste. Modular and panelized construction projects are regularly meeting LEED standards today.

Case studies: Marriott Hotels and the New Heathrow London Airport Terminal

Two walls – multicolor


Among the early adopters of interior as well as holistic module construction is Marriott International. Marriott has announced plans to use modular construction on about 13% of its northern American hotels. The company issued a press release indicating that it expects to sign 50 hotel agreements this year that include prefabricated bathrooms or guestrooms in their design. Marriott has already opened one modular hotel in California, completed two months ahead of schedule. Marriott’s adoption of the technology is mission driven: “We want to start a movement to change the industry and feel the modular process will be a game changer for our valued development partners,” said Karim Khalifa, Marriott International’s senior vice president of global design strategies.[iii]

Continued advances in technology and the desire to take advantage of the design creativity offered by modular construction will continue to drive its adoption in the near future.

Mark Durkin is the in-house expert at Stamford Office Furniture for the DIRTT Environmental Solutions interior modular design and construction systems. Both Stamford Office Furniture and DIRTT are members of the Construction Institute.

The Construction Institute (construction.org), a division of the University of Hartford, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan association of diverse professionals working to improve the construction industry by sharing experiences and knowledge, advancing relationships, and developing business leaders statewide.


[i] Agility Grows As A Priority Among Corporate Real Estate Executives, Markets Insider, PR Newswire, August 10, 2017,

[ii] “Comparing construction to manufacturing, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 57%, of activities in construction are wasteful and non-value adding. . . . Manufacturing is directly opposite with 62% of all activities being value adding. Replacing the wasteful elements of construction with manufacturing benefits through modular processes can remove waste and increase value for projects.” Offsite and Modular Construction Explained, Ryan Smith, University of Utah, Whole Building Design Guide, a program of the National Institute of Building Sciences, August 9, 2016

[iii] Marriott Expands Modular Construction Initiative, May 3, 2017, https://www.cpexecutive.com/post/marriott-expands-modular-construction-initiative/.







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