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The Downfalls of Prefab Design

Sky City is planned to be the world's tallest skyscraper, constructed entirely through pre-fab.
Sky City is planned to be the world's tallest skyscraper, constructed entirely through pre-fab.

Prefabricated design has come to be known as a fast, green, and cost-efficient way to create buildings. Although this technique has most prominently been used with small residential structures, it’s now taken a turn towards greater, larger projects. With prefabricated towers and skyscrapers now in the works (and, in some cases, going up in as little as six days), pre-fab begs the question: is it really safe? Does quick production time lead to instability, making prefabricated buildings more likely to collapse?

Read more after the break.

Prefabrication has some advantages: it is typically cheaper to build than on-site construction and it usually takes less time for construction to be complete. Pre-fab structures are very sustainable because they reduce the amount of waste produced.

Courtesy of BAKOKO
Courtesy of BAKOKO

However, prefabrication can have its disadvantages. First of all, there can be more risk with the prefabrication technique than in traditional construction: since the majority of the large building components are constructed off-site, there is a great amount of trust given to the manufacturer to produce precisely what is needed. One single error can eventually put the entire building in danger.

Courtesy of The Miami Herald
Courtesy of The Miami Herald

A simple mistake may have been the cause of a recent collapse of a parking garage in Miami, Florida. This parking garage, just like many of its kind, was created with prefabricated beams. The heavy beams, columns, and floor plans needed to be perfectly aligned and constructed for it to stand up. However, a disaster occurred: the floor slabs at one section of the garage disconnected and fell down, creating a domino effect of destruction. 

Although the precise cause of the incident is still unknown, investigators believe that it was a construction error and not a design fault.

It will take a long time to decipher the exact cause of failure in the Miami garage because there is a lot of room for mistakes to occur in the pre-fab process, especially once the pieces arrive on site. When they arrive, they are attached and bolted together. Workers are constructing under an intense time limit in order to complete the task quickly, and this can lead to a higher potential of mistakes being made compared to traditional on-site methods not typically associated with rapid completion times.

Courtesy of BAKOKO
Courtesy of BAKOKO

Moreover, every site is unique and has its own individual characteristics and challenges; a prototype building for all sites does not exist. Prefabricated buildings, designed for efficiency, may appear ideal in theory, but they lack personalization and detail. By creating pieces off-site instead of on-site, there exists a disconnect between the architect and the land itself.

Courtesy of BAKOKO
Courtesy of BAKOKO

In conclusion, pre-fabrication has plenty of advantages – particularly if you live by the adage that “time is money” since it promises lower construction cost, a quicker schedule, and less waste. However, when human safety is concerned, quality cannot be sacrificed for efficiency (not to mention that, if, in the name of safety, any changes do need to be made to prefabricated materials once they arrive on site, it is an expensive and time-consuming  fix). As pre-fabrication continues to boom, we must take the utmost care to ensure its quality – just as we do with traditional construction – or else all the time and money gained will result in a very real, human cost.

via The IndependentThe New York TimesThe Miami Herald, and Green Diary.
Images via Daquella manera and BAKOKO, licensed through Creative Commons.

Cite:Lisa Wronski. "The Downfalls of Prefab Design" 25 Feb 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed . <http://www.archdaily.com/336054/the-downfalls-of-prefab-design/>