Text Box: Overcoming Client and Market Resistance to Prefabrication and Standardisation in Housing. 

Martin Edge was PI for this EPSRC/DTI research project in the ‘Meeting Clients’ Needs Through Standardisation Programme. 

A summary document designed for a general audience is available here

Following a number of industry and Government reports in the 1990s, culminating in the Egan Report (Egan, J. (1998) 'Rethinking Construction'  HMSO), a great deal of attention has been paid both by UK Government agencies and industry, to making the construction industry more competitive. Typically this has involved comparison with the methods and products of other, consumer oriented industries. A comparison in which construction has consistently been found wanting. A particular focus of criticism has been the failure of a highly fragmented industry to adopt a greater degree of off-site prefabrication – of whole buildings or components, and standardisation – of processes and products. A considerable amount of research has been focused on this issue, notably through the EPSRC/DTI ‘Link’ IMI Programme ‘Meeting Clients’ Needs through Standardisation’, of which this project forms a part. Given the projected demand for and high policy priority of housing, for example of urban ‘keyworkers’ and as a result of ‘care in the community’ policy, this sector has been a particular focus of research projects.

The large majority of this research has focused on processes within the construction industry. It has compared the practice of producing houses with other industries in the UK and across National boundaries. In much of this research a recurrent theme emerged. Many leaders in the construction industry defended the status quo and traditional building methods by suggesting that it was other interest groups, not construction firms, which were resistant to change. Often they cited the adverse media coverage of timber framed housing which more or less put a stop to that construction technique in England, but not in Scotland. Some developers say that consumers – individual home buyers – are attached to traditional construction and will not buy innovative new homes. Others say that lenders are reluctant to give mortgages on non-traditional construction, or that valuers put low values on it, or that planners delay the process of acquiring the necessary permissions. Others point to the unknowns in many new building techniques and the potential maintenance problems which may be perceived by institutional clients for social sector housing.

The project reported on here was conceived to resolve some of these apparent conflicts. Our brief was to investigate where resistance may lie to innovation in housing occasioned by new prefabrication and standardisation techniques and ways in which such resistance might be overcome. Though we have studied both social housing clients and the various professions whose views may legislate against innovation in housing, our main focus of attention in doing this has been the ‘consumer’ – the potential purchaser of new, owner-occupied housing. Given the coincidence of the current adoption in England of timber framed housing techniques ‘exported’ from Scotland and the fact that most academic and industrial members of the project consortium are based in Scotland, many of the examples employed in the research use some form of timber construction.

The focus of this project has been on people-environment studies – or ‘environmental design – rather than on economics or manufacturing process. We have not presumed to judge the financial viability of the different systems of prefabrication in housing currently being advocated by different sectors of the industry. As built environment professionals and environmental psychologists our expertise lies in the design and perception of the attributes of living environments. This report describes the results of a 30 month study of these attributes. 

Most of the study was carried out by a team at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen. The RGU Team comprised social scientists with a surveying and planning background (Dr Martin Edge and Dr Richard Laing), Environmental Psychologists (Anthony Craig and Leanne Abbott), Anthropologists (Andrew Hargreaves) and Architectural Technologists (Stephen Scott, Jonathan Scott and William Binnie). Some of the research was also carried out by the Palmer Partnership (Simon Palmer). 

Guidance was provided throughout by a Steering Group chosen for its ability to represent a wide variety of interest groups. The innovative development sector was represented by the Stewart Milne Group (Les Henderson and Ross Peedle), the financial sector by the Dunfermline Building Society and the Council for Mortgage Lenders (David Chalmers), the social housing sector by Grampian Housing Association (Mike Allen), valuers by General Accident Valuation and Surveys (Alan Waugh). The SME and the individual house designer was also represented (Prof Robin Webster and Gokay Deveci).

Thanks are also due to the large number of other organisations and individuals who formed part of our ‘Technical Forum’ and are listed in Appendix C. 

Pdfs of the full report and an executive summary are available via the links on the left













Text Box: Final Report 

 Case Studies
 Developers/Professions Views
 Resistance to Prefabrication


 Housing the future - Summary Report