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Modular, serial, prefabricated building—the solution to the housing problem?

In light of the increasing housing shortage and rising construction and rental prices, the focus is shifting to measures that enhance productivity. One approach is to achieve this through the use of digital tools ranging from digital twins to the use of artificial intelligence and robotics. But another promising approach is also coming back into focus: serial and modular construction with industrially prefabricated components. Adapted to today’s requirements, the innovative use of state-of-the-art technologies, customized design and sustainable materials clearly sets it apart from the unpopular prefabricated buildings of the 1970s and focuses on exceptional quality, unique architecture and optimum resource efficiency. Discover the pioneering innovations and ideas of modular construction at BAU 2025.

Will modular construction save the construction industry?

The majority of today’s construction production is based on one-offs, designed for the respective location, in response to the requirements of the users, using construction methods adapted to the climate and region, and built by hand as they were 50 years ago. Modular construction, meanwhile, is transforming the construction industry through the use of prefabricated modules that are manufactured in production facilities under controlled conditions and then transported to the construction site, where they are assembled into a complete building. Thanks to digital tools and processes, precise prefabrication leads to high construction quality and enables efficient use of materials. This not only saves costs but also minimizes construction site waste. Compared to traditional construction methods, in which each phase is carried out in a linear way directly on site, modular construction thus offers a faster, more cost-effective solution that can ideally be separated by type.

By standardizing and optimizing processes, modular construction improves the vulnerability of supply chains and minimizes many of the traditional risk factors on construction sites. At the same time, unlike in the 1970s, the construction method today offers a high degree of adaptability to individual design requirements.

© Messe München GmbH

Even if opinions on this are still not unanimous—as in the position paper of the Federal Chamber of Architects, for example—there is agreement that serial and modular construction is not an end in itself, but instead a means of increasing productivity. Not only do digital, integral planning tools such as Building Information Modeling (BIM) simplify the optimization of construction and the use of raw materials, but innovative technologies such as robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) also increase quality and safety on site. The discussion rounds at BAU 2023 also showed that these facets need to be discussed just as much as the potential for future developments needs to be explored.

Is modular construction the same as serial construction?

Even though the terms modular and serial are often used interchangeably in everyday language, there are differences, advantages and specific challenges that vary depending on the project requirements, design objectives and logistical framework conditions.

Modular construction & Serial construction

Modular construction

Modular construction focuses on the manufacture and assembly of prefabricated modules, which can usually comprise entire room sections or even entire storeys. The focus of modular construction is on the spatial and functional completeness of the individual modules, in which the internal installations, such as electrical, sanitary and heating installations, can already be integrated.

Serial construction

Serial construction refers to a broader approach to prefabrication in which components or elements are manufactured in series and then assembled on site. The focus of serial construction is on the repeatability and efficiency of construction processes. This can include modular elements or other prefabricated components that do not necessarily have the complete spatial structure of a module.

The term “modules” can also be interpreted ambiguously.

Individual elements & Room modules

Individual elements

Individual elements are the simplest form of modular components. They consist of individual components such as walls, ceilings, windows or door modules. These elements are prefabricated in the factory and transported to the construction site, where they are assembled on site.

Room modules

Room modules are essentially completely prefabricated rooms that can contain all the necessary components such as walls, floors and ceilings, but also larger, complex components such as residential units, hotel rooms or office units with all interior fittings such as kitchens, bathrooms and technical installations. The recently completed Luisenblock West in Berlin shows that this construction method is particularly suitable for projects that need to be completed quickly. The new office building for the German Bundestag with 400 offices was erected using modular construction and prefabricated timber modules in just 15 months.

Increasing productivity with digital tools?

Increasing productivity is a key objective in many industries, and in the construction sector in particular, modular and serial construction, as well as digital solutions, can make a big difference.

Tools such as the digital twin make it possible to model and manage buildings and infrastructures virtually, minimizing planning errors and improving collaboration between the various trades in planning and on the construction site. In addition, the virtual image allows the building data to be analyzed as an overall system, and a comprehensive life cycle analysis to be carried out from the use phase through to possible demolition.

© Messe München GmbH

The practical networking of digital applications, processes and data in the factory during prefabrication processes and on the construction site is also already common practice today. Robotic applications that build walls, plaster walls or drill precise holes for substructures are already being used as measures to increase quality; they are also an incentive for a new generation of skilled workers. Similarly, project management software solutions provide a platform for efficient workflows and communication, resulting in more streamlined, time- and cost-efficient implementation. In addition, advanced analysis tools and AI-supported systems enable decision-making for processes, the optimization of resource use and possible maintenance strategies. The use of AI that learns from user behavior can help to reduce operating costs in the long term and extend the service life of projects.

Modular construction: From bias to benefit

The advantages of using modular components as a supplement to conventional construction methods are obvious.

Cost efficiency

Cost efficiency thanks to more predictable material and manufacturing costs. More precise cutting and the reuse of materials also reduce material waste in production, resulting in lower overall costs.

Increased quality

Increased quality thanks to controlled manufacturing conditions in a factory environment instead of the risk of construction defects that can arise due to the weather or on site. Modern production technology leads to high precision and enables compliance with quality standards.

Shorter construction

Shorter construction times thanks to year-round, weather-independent production, faster assembly thanks to prefabrication and shorter construction site set-up times thanks to just-in-time logistics.

Flexibility

Flexibility thanks to the adaptability resulting from expanding and modifying the modules. This offers flexibility for future changes of use.

Answer to the shortage of skilled workers

Answer to the shortage of skilled workers, as modular construction reduces the need for labor on site and provides a safe, weather-protected workplace in a controlled working environment.

Good conditions for circular construction

As a partially standardized system, the digital processes of modular, serial construction offer good conditions for circular construction or single-variety dismantling, and thus the reuse of raw materials and components.

Possible restrictions currently still arise from the investment costs and transportation logistics. The preconception that standardization restricts design and individuality has been refuted by a large number of good pilot projects, especially in terms of redensification, for example. There are also still challenges in adapting to the existing buildings. But here too, serial refurbishment concepts for the housing stock, such as the Energiesprong principle, demonstrate the innovative strength of the sector.

Why are sustainability and modular construction a perfect match?

Modular construction offers an opportunity to minimize the environmental impact of high resource consumption and the contribution to CO2 emissions.

  • Design principles that can be separated by type, also known as “design for disassembly”. This requires conscious planning of connections, material selection and construction methods in order to facilitate the subsequent separation, dismantling and reuse of materials.
  • The use of materials that can be easily separated or are not permanently bonded together, e.g. by screw connections, plug-in connections and other reversible connection techniques instead of bonding.
  • A digital building resource passport that visualizes the potential for reusing materials with precise documentation of the materials used and construction details.

What’s next?

In mid-2023, the “Serial and Modular Construction 2.0” tender launched a new Europe-wide tendering process for pioneering residential construction concepts, initiated by the Federal Ministry of Construction, the umbrella organization of the housing industry GdW and the Federation of the German Construction Industry. Its goal is to exploit the advantages of modular and serial construction, and quickly create affordable housing. Through the tender, 25 serial and modular concepts for the creation of modular housing were selected that can contribute to solving the housing shortage in large and medium-sized German cities. In addition to the focus on flexibility to adapt to the local context and sustainability aspects such as a low carbon footprint, the framework agreement also gives the municipal housing associations a price signal for below-average construction costs compared to conventional construction methods and a significantly shorter construction time. The attractiveness of the overall urban, design, technical and ecological quality also lies in the openness of the choice of materials—from timber construction to reinforced concrete and hybrid construction methods. This can also be seen at BAU 2025, where the variety of design and application options will be presented.

There is also a lot to discover in terms of the digitalization of the construction industry as a key to efficiency and productivity. In the digital hall C3 “powered by digitalBAU”, you can find out about the current state of the industry, learn about digital methods already in use and discover the potential of innovative construction site software, artificial intelligence, big data and blockchains in the construction industry.

What are the advantages of modular construction (compared to conventional construction methods)?

The modular design offers numerous advantages over conventional construction. These range from time savings and cost efficiency, to standardized production processes in prefabrication, to the reduction of waste and disruption on the construction site.

What construction methods are there for modular construction?

Modular construction includes various construction methods, from individual elements made of wood, steel or concrete to complete prefabricated rooms that can be converted into temporary school and business premises, for example. The modules can be designed for both temporary and permanent structures and adapted to a wide range of applications.

What are the limits of modular construction?

The limitations of modular construction include the transportability of the modules, which is restricted by road traffic regulations, and the flexibility of the design, as the module sizes and shapes are predetermined.

Is serial construction the solution to the housing shortage in Germany?

Serial construction could contribute to solving the housing shortage in Germany, as it enables residential buildings to be constructed rapidly and efficiently through the standardization of components and processes. However, in order to fully exploit the potential of serial construction and create sustainable, affordable housing in sufficient numbers, appropriate political support is required, e.g. through funding programs or framework agreements such as “Serial and Modular Construction 2.0”.

What advantages do digital tools offer for modular and serial construction?

Digital tools enable precise planning and efficient coordination through the use of Building Information Modeling (BIM), which saves time and money. They support the automation and optimization of production processes, enabling components to be manufactured faster and in higher quality. They also promote sustainability through the efficient use of resources and enable comprehensive documentation and traceability for all construction processes.

What role do robotics and artificial intelligence play in modular construction?

Robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) play a central role in module construction by increasing the automation of production processes and the precision in the manufacture of components. AI-supported systems optimize planning and logistics by analyzing large amounts of data and developing more efficient construction processes. In addition, robots and AI enable continuous monitoring and quality control, which increases the speed of construction and reduces the error rate at the same time.

Which smart technologies will be used on the digital construction site?

Intelligent technologies will play a central role on the digital construction site of the future. Building Information Modeling (BIM) promotes seamless collaboration, while drones, artificial intelligence and IoT sensors improve real-time monitoring and analysis. 3D printing and autonomous machines increase efficiency and safety by producing components on site and taking over hazardous tasks. AR and VR support the visualization of complex construction plans and immersive training. Blockchains and big data are optimizing contract management and decision-making, revolutionizing the entire construction industry.

Can the use of big data in the construction industry become a competitive advantage?

Big data can give the construction industry a competitive advantage, particularly through the analysis of large amounts of data that enable construction companies to make informed decisions, better manage risks and optimize construction processes. This leads to more efficient work processes, cost savings and a higher quality of construction projects. Big data also enables predictive maintenance and improved safety on construction sites.