Development and future of prefab
Aside from answering a general demand for faster and smarter construction, the use of prefabricated construction elements allows for efficient construction by fewer construction workers and as such provides a solution for increasing labour shortages in the construction sector.
Importance of prefab
Given the importance of the trend, we have been monitoring usage of prefab for years now and have focused the Q3 2019 report of the European Achitectural Barometer on usage of prefab entirely. The results of 1600 interviews with architects from eight European countries show that the usage and growth of prefab very much differs per country.
In terms of usage of prefabricated elements in construction, the Netherlands is clearly taking the lead. Dutch architects report that in almost half of the projects some form of prefab is being used. Given the level of labour shortage in the Dutch construction market, this is hardly surprising, but labour shortage is not the only explanation. Prefab usage often goes hand in hand with digitalisation in construction, and the level of BIM usage in the Netherlands is also relatively high. Additionally, the Dutch culture of row- or terrace houses forms a good breeding ground for the usage of prefab in major residential construction projects.
In terms of level of usage of prefab, Spain comes in second, with some form of prefab being used in 37% of the construction projects. This shows that labour shortage is not the only oil on the prefab fire, but that construction culture, habit and routine also play a role, given that historically, Spain has always had a high usage of prefab, especially in multi-family housing.
Germany, Poland and Belgium linger in the middle, with close to a third of the projects containing some form of prefab. The UK, Italy and France seem to form the runt of the litter, with 20%, 18% and 15% of construction projects containing some form of prefabrication respectively. For most of these countries, the use of prefab seems to be correlating with levels of labour shortage, but a closer focus on specific countries again reveals that there are more factors involved, and that it is worth to keep country-specific trends in mind. The UK is a good example of that. Prefabricated elements being used in only 20% of the UK projects seems a bit low, but of all countries, the way of using prefab is actually more advanced in the UK, where more elaborated 3D or volumetric prefabricated elements are used more often.
Future of prefab
As for the future of prefab, expectations are as varied as the current usage. According to the architects, the largest growth of prefab usage in the coming five years is expected in Spain and Poland, with the UK and the Netherlands being the runner up.
All this goes to show that, although labour shortages and a demand for faster and smarter construction can explain the development of prefab usage, a deeper focus on county-specific trends and contexts is needed to successfully anticipate future developments of prefab in Europe. For more detailed information and figures we refer you to the Q3 2019 report of the European Achitectural Barometer.
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