Europe's Largest 3D Modular Homes Facility Signals a Sustainable Shift in Construction
Modern methods of construction (MMC) are moving into the mainstream of both domestic and commercial building. The technology behind modular building has come a long way and an industry consensus is slowly building that recognises this as the future. The opening of Europe's largest 3D modular homes facility in the Northamptonshire town of Corby marks a significant step forward in the adoption of modular offsite construction.
Located at Magna Park, the site has been developed by TopHat, a housebuilder with the financial backing of Goldman Sachs. TopHat is a genuine pioneer in the UK construction industry, the country's first zero-embodied carbon home builder. Founded in 2016, its simple vision was to deliver desirable, ultra-low carbon, affordable homes using the latest entirely sustainable manufacturing methods and technology.
The advantage of being a relatively new company is that TopHat is not weighed down with the baggage of conventional industry practice. Its business model is based entirely on MMC. That means manufacturing homes in a controlled environment, without the uncertainties of bad weather, skills shortages and inefficient supply chains. Timetables and budgets can be planned with confidence and strictly adhered to. Quality control is built in at every step of the process.
Statistics confirming the benefits of TopHat's approach abound. Here is just one: over the life of a TopHat home the level of CO2 produced will be lower than half the amount of CO2 produced by a house constructed conventionally. That's equivalent to over 30 years of regular car use. The homes will be revolutionary in other ways. Their energy efficiency means they will produce no carbon emissions from the use of utilities.
TopHat's methods are based on automated manufacturing processes, the highest quality materials and smart technologies such as 3D-printing. The use of repeatable components means that consistency of quality is ensured, while multiple inspections during the process confirm that consistency. The company's advanced robotics and innovative brick facades offer endless variations in design without the usual costs that accompany customisation.
3D-printing is perhaps the most revolutionary aspect of the operation. For centuries, house building has followed the same pattern of building upwards, brick by brick, onsite. Technology has changed, but the concept has not. The ability to produce the components of a building with 3D printing is finally freeing the industry from the costly, slow and polluting demands of convention, allowing structures to be made and assembled more quickly, more cheaply, more consistently and with a smaller workforce. It is also widely accepted that the materials used and the resultant buildings are stronger. TopHat is leading the way out of the 3D pilot stage and soon developers will be 3D printing entire communities.
The Corby facility, due to open in 2023, is a breath-taking venture which will be the anchor tenant of developer GLP's new Magna Park project. Covering 650,000 square feet it is the size of 11 football pitches, 7 times larger than TopHat's current Derby facility. It will be capable of manufacturing and delivering 4,000 high-quality homes every year. With 800 already produced annually in Derby the company's capacity will be close to 5,000.
Although MMC and 3D-printing require fewer workers than traditional builds, the Magna Park facility will nevertheless bring 1,000 new green economy jobs to the area and TopHat also plans to establish a training academy to be run in partnership with local colleges.
Jordan Rosenhaus is the founder and CEO of TopHat. His enthusiasm for the project is infectious: "Our homes are designed to be beautiful and green, being low-carbon to build and much cheaper to run. TopHat is playing a leading role in transforming home building in the UK, improving quality, reducing costs and protecting the environment."
Offsite manufacturing construction seems finally to be coming of age and casting off the poor reputation it has been saddled with since the pre-fab housing initiative of the post-war years. What MMC in general and TopHat's ambitious, inspirational project in particular prove is that although it may be faster and cheaper, modular building is not the poor relative of the labour-intensive and wasteful methods which belong in the past. It demonstrates beyond doubt that MMC is the ideal solution for building our way out of a housing shortage while reducing CO2 emissions, embodied carbon and the extravagant waste of raw materials.