Editorial: Industrialized building

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Fashions come and go. Industrialized building (IB) is no exception, having its roots far in the past and appearing in just about every type of construction, including infrastructure, at one time or another. Industrialization, as a term applied to the production of goods, can be on a macro-scale as in the case of large assemblies and near-complete structures. But it also applies to myriad products installed in buildings. Industrialized building is about process and product, where the process involves a producer’s focus mostly on means and the product involves a purchaser’s focus on ends. However, this simplified view hides more complex issues that are fundamental to successful innovation in this field and which are examined from a number of perspectives in this special issue. Depending upon where you are in the world, the idea of industrialized housing, for example, can draw a reaction that ranges from delight, through indifference, to aversion. There have been many eras and movements, each with their proponents and opponents. While our context is the twentieth century, examples of industrialized building are to be found throughout the ages. Close to the location of modern-day Reading (UK) are the remains of what was, in Roman Britain, the thriving town of Calleva Atrebatum, occupying a strategic position between what is now London and the west of England. The development of Calleva benefited from timber-framed construction, with prefabricated elements and other components produced in significant quantity as part of a trade-driven Roman conquest. Numerous innovations were implanted locally, only to be lost for a millennium following the collapse of the Roman Empire. The Tudors and Elizabethans reinvented the wheel to a certain extent, but generally botched the job so that relatively little remains of their work today. It was not until the Industrial Revolution that componentization and prefabrication re-emerged. Since then, industrialization in the broadest sense has enabled countries to engage in production on a gigantic scale to fuel their burgeoning economies: Britain in the nineteenth century, the US from the start of the twentieth century (with Japan emerging in the second half) and the addition of China in the new millennium. Eras and movements are generally synonymous with a particular style of architecture (constructivist, modernism, postmodernism, high-tech and sustainable to name a few) and most are influenced by the politics of the day. Ambitious housing programmes aimed at urban regeneration have been a familiar theme in many countries and have often relied on public sector funding or, at least, significant subsidies. Big business (manufacturers and major construction companies) has been in on the act, interpreting what it considers to be the needs of the day followed by the offer of solutions it believes can be sold for a healthy profit (so long as there are enough takers to guarantee sufficient demand). No country has had a monopoly on this legacy or these practices. The contrast between countries at a given time can be striking, but that does not mean some were right and the rest were wrong. Not only were the contexts generally dissimilar, but their histories in relation to industrialized building have different origins and have followed different trajectories; take Japan, the UK and Sweden for example and the emergence of China in more recent times. Each has experienced a succession of movements featuring attempts at mass production and mass customization with degrees of pre-engineering, prefabrication and success. The passage of time makes clear what has worked and what has not. In some cases, enthusiasm for industrialized housing has been lost almost in an instant. Industrialized building is not solely about housing. Most modern commercial and industrial buildings are products of a supply chain that is geared to production (factory-based and global) to satisfy the appetites of owners, developers and tenants for buildings that exemplify modernity, not least in their use of materials and technology. The seeds of this particular movement were sown in the 1980s and were followed by the promotion of construction as a manufacturing process. It did not help, however, to be continually compared with the automotive industry; nonetheless, some useful lessons in supply chain management have become embedded in construction. In the event, it was an uphill struggle to persuade government that, given the right kind of encouragement (mostly monetary), construction could modernize: it could industrialize and become leaner and, arguably, more productive. Detractors will, however, point to achievements that to this very day have yet to be equalled. For instance, the Crystal Palace is often cited as record-breaking; yet, who would seriously wish to see Victorian health, safety and other labour-related practices on a twenty-first-century construction site? Offsite production, in the sense of complete or near-complete modules, has become regarded as a perfectly acceptable solution for certain types of commercial and industrial buildings and, depending on the country, for housing too. Its deployment has grown steadily and is one of the more stable segments within the industrialized building sector in terms of production volumes. Offsite has been sold on the premise that, quite rightly, it provides decent quality products of modest cost for rapid onsite assembly. It is a model that has been followed in many countries since it overcomes objections to industrialized building in general.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-6
Number of pages6
JournalConstruction Management and Economics
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 2014 Mar 20

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Building Technologies


  • industrialised building
  • Construction management


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