China discovers modular construction — just add labor, fireworks


If the video is cranky, click “YouTube” lower rh frame and watch it there
 
As a crane lowered a steel-and-concrete slab onto support pillars, construction workers swarmed around to bolt it down – a choreography of mad-dash steps against a backdrop of firecrackers, and a sacrificed cow, to herald China’s latest “instant building”.

The three-story structure, a workers’ cafeteria, was just a side note to a 30-story hotel built over 15 days outside this city in Hunan province in December. Both are examples of the streamlined construction being pioneered by China’s Broad Sustainable Building.

“There is an urgent need for construction security, especially energy-saving in construction, and this touches on conserving materials,” Zhang Yue, Broad Group’s founder and chairman, told Reuters in an interview at his headquarters in Changsha.

Over the last decade China has seen one of the biggest construction booms in history to house a surging urban population and an expanding industrial sector. But with that construction have come worries about environmental destruction, waste and shoddy buildings. Zhang argues that his buildings represent just the opposite…

“It’s very easy to learn the construction – all the workers need to do is fasten the bolts,” said Liu Zhijian, a 23-year-old site worker from the nearby city of Loudi. “There’s no welding, no dust, no water,” he said. “It’s not at all like traditional construction, which is all about bricks and concrete…”

The approach is relatively straightforward. Workers prefabricate flat modules at two factories in Yueyang, about 90 minutes north of the provincial capital of Changsha…

BSB estimates it produces 90 percent of its buildings in the plants.

The process also leaves little trash behind…”We have only 1 percent of construction waste at building sites,” said Shang Dayong, a worker from Ningxia province who came to learn the quick-build process to teach others back home.

Modular construction truly rocks. Even though most of the housing I worked on was custom designs, there are firms I competed against that did a stellar job with production modules built off-site and transported to fit the site. If their pre-designed packages fit the needs and taste of clients, savings of 20-30% were common.

In commercial construction — even faster and easier. There is one chain of motels that builds all of their modules as opposite rooms in the motel with a section of hall way between. They’re trucked to the job site and dropped into place floor by floor, side by side. Easy as pie. A hell of a lot less job site labor, savings on insurance, raw materials, scrap all-round.

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