Why Today’s Hotel Developers are Considering the Move to Modular
by Harry Wheeler
Ever evolving, the hospitality industry continues to adapt to changing conditions and the adoption of new design and construction trends. Today, hotel developers are experiencing escalating construction and land costs, lengthening construction timelines, and the diminishing quality of construction. As such, modular construction has been gaining a solid reputation as an innovative building approach for the hospitality design community due to its many benefits including speed, quality, practicality, and cost — and coupled with its success in other market areas including commercial and multifamily housing, education, healthcare, office and administrative, retail, and institutional.
What is modular construction?
Modular construction is an efficient building process that assembles materials or components of a building in an offsite location. Commercial modular buildings are nonresidential structures built in a controlled manufacturing environment, which are then transported and assembled at the final building site. This can include the entire building or components of a larger structure. Modular contractors typically work hand in hand with traditional general contractors to leverage resources and take advantage of each type of construction approach.
What does the process look like for the hospitality industry?
This building technique is best suited for new build hotel construction. However, it is increasingly being used for extensions or annexes. Modular construction is a sustainable turnkey solution that dramatically reduces construction time and delivers improved quality and consistency. Because of the factory environment of the initial build, it further helps ensure that all elements of the module are constructed to current hotel brand standards using approved materials, fixtures, and furnishings. Again, having a collaborative relationship with the modular contractor and bringing him or her into the process as early as possible is key to the success of the project.
What are the different applications for hotels?
There are various ways modular construction can be applied to hotel development and construction.
- Full modular: Entire guest rooms are assembled offsite and installed onsite. Every element of the room can be prefabricated and replicated including the walls, windows, carpet, fixtures, accessories, and even the artwork on the walls. This is particularly helpful for hotels looking to emulate their portfolio properties and adhere to brand standards.
- Partial modular: Portions of a guest room, like a bathroom, are assembled as a pod. The pod is then placed into the traditionally constructed building guest rooms with all electrical, plumbing, and mechanical connections.
- System kits: Electrical, plumbing, and mechanical systems are manufactured offsite and kitted. For example, a guest room electrical panel system is made with the required electrical panel and wiring runs to make all connections. Each kit is labeled for a specific guest room so it meets all requirements.
What are some of the pros and cons?
In the early stages of adoption among our industry, there seems to be many potentially positive impacts from modular construction. With that said, there are still some challenges to overcome.
- Faster construction process: More streamlined and efficient use of skilled labor with fewer materials wasted.
- Environmentally friendly: Less site damage, material exposure, and landfill waste than traditional methods of building.
- Climate-neutral: Primarily occurring indoors away from harsh weather conditions, modular construction prevents damage to building materials and allows builders to work in safer conditions.
- Early commitment is required: Depending on when you bring in a modular contractor, if you wait too long you will potentially experience barriers to changing the schedule and streamlining your process. Start early. This approach begins at the design phase if you want it to be successful.
- Nontraditional funding: In typical construction projects, the bank allows the developer to draw down funds when material is set in place and completed. With modular, the bank has to release these funds prior to implementation onsite.
- Creates larger buildings: To accommodate the joining of the modular units into a larger building, additional space is included for infrastructure. This additional space can add up fast, increasing the overall footprint of the hotel to get the number of keys needed.
- New approach to build: Like anything, there is going to be some level of apprehension to implementing a new way of doing things. Avoid dismissing the process because it’s a departure from your traditional building approach.
How will modular construction impact the future of hotel development?
Despite popularity and success in other key building markets, modular construction is still breaking ground in the hospitality industry. Right now, it’s hard to tell how large of an impact it will have on the hospitality design community, but we are seeing an influx of hotel brands considering how to make modular construction a part of their future build processes. Marriott and Holiday Inn are two examples of brands reviewing their prototype drawings with this new construction method in mind. At Group One, we’ve been involved in several modular construction designs with different hotels to date. Given the many benefits of using modular construction to build smarter, greener, and faster, it’s unsurprising that the conversation around traditional versus modular design is gaining momentum. From what I can tell, we may be looking at a new way of building tomorrow’s hotels.
Harry Wheeler AIA, NCARB, LEED, is a principal at Group One Partners, Inc.