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The future of prefab

The demand for a faster, cheaper and smarter building process has been on the rise for quite some time.

Faster, cheaper & smarter

The demand for a faster, cheaper and smarter building process has been on the rise for quite some time. During the crisis this demand slowed down a bit, but with positive building volumes in Europe the trend picked up steam again.

With the European architectural barometer (quarterly research amongst 1,600 architects in 8 European countries) we already investigated ways of building smarter. A major component of this is of course BIM. This could also enable a cheaper (i.e less failure costs) building process.

When talking about a faster building process, we know the demand in Europe is already there (except for Italy). We have also investigated the trend towards more modular building products. This trend is not only driven by a desire for a faster building process, but also by a perceived lack of qualitative and quantitative labor force in the near future.


Overall, prefabrication is often mentioned as a way to build faster. Prefabrication means that buildings go up faster, and budgets are likely to stay lower. Furthermore, owners always want to get a return on investment as fast as possible.

Prefabrication in the residential market has made a transition from very humble beginnings as container homes, moving towards modular, precut, panelized housing and finally ‘fully’ prefabricated houses. In the commercial sector, we already discussed the way McDonalds is using modular building in the UK and how Google is constructing it’s new campus.

The Q3 2016 report of the European architectural barometer focuses on the future of prefabrication. The full report covers 8 countries, but I would like to focus on the Netherlands and France (the two extremes when it comes to adaption of prefab).

Overview of usage

In the Netherlands, prefabricated elements are used in over half of all projects. In France, this is only 18%. Generally speaking, the French construction market is more conservative, but this difference is really significant. Almost 70% of the architects in the Netherlands expect that in the upcoming three years more prefabricated elements will be used, against only 31% of French architects. Again, this is a significant difference.

The number 1 biggest advantage as perceived by Dutch and French architects is the same, a shorter building process. The biggest disadvantage perceived by the Dutch architects is a longer preparation time, whilst the French architects mention the lack of flexibility the most.

This difference can be explained from the fact that the Dutch have more experience with prefabrication. They don’t experience a lack of flexibility while designing with prefabricated elements. However, it is important to take sufficient time in the preparation phase.

The final decision maker when it comes to using prefab is also different in the two countries. Dutch architects mention the principal as the final decision maker where as French architects mention themselves as the final decision maker.

Type of prefab

The type of prefab mostly used in their projects is the same for the two countries. Most used are panelised systems, 3D prefab is used least.

The overall split between new build and renovation (and residential vs non residential) is more or less the same for the 2 countries.

The full report covers much more (what kind of elements, what area's of the building, split per segment and so on) in case of any questions feel free to contact me at