Will MMC Rescue Housing Supply Shortage?

Bob Cooper
Housing supply in many Gulf economies has been restricted in the last three years, with investors and banks reluctant to invest in real estate projects after the global financial crisis.

Growing populations, exacerbated by the inflow of expatriate workers, have led to increased demand for affordable housing. Governments are seeking ways to address this. Saudi Arabia, for instance, has set up a ministry for housing to tackle its huge housing demand.

As markets become more robust throughout the region, there is significant potential for using Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) to add value. MMC brings savings in time and materials, and the potential for higher quality. Used wisely, MMC can underpin a better process and deliver a better product.

MMC challenges conventional building methods and introduces automation into the construction industry. The industry is often accused of making the simple complicated – instead MMC aims to make the complicated simple.

Construction details are standardised with single repetitive details and materials used to create a production line model, both on and off site. Costs are therefore more easily predicted.

Main drivers for MMC:

  • Shortage in housing supply – KSA and Iraq have demand for more than 1 million housing units each
  • Skills shortage – under-investment in training and huge labour demand have meant skills have been spread thinly
  • Concerns over housing quality – Dubai (as the largest Middle East market) has been heavily criticised and as a result performance criteria has been lifted in some cases to improve quality
  • Changes in regulations – regulations have been broadened to cover increases in thermal performance
  • Environmental performance – in the UAE, Dubai has introduced LEED on some buildings whilst Abu Dhabi has introduced Estidama
  • MMC can support improved cash flow and economies of scale. Many of the cost and time barriers caused by skill shortages, wasteful construction practices and design lead times can be successfully overcome

Main classifications for MMC:

1) Volumetric Construction - off-site manufactured - use of three dimensional units (mainly kitchens and bathrooms) produced in a factory, fully fitted out including cupboards, tiling, grout and mastic then transported to site and stacked onto prepared areas within the structure

2) Panellised Construction - off-site manufactured - use of panels built in a factory and moved to site to form a three dimensional structure

3) Hybrid Construction - off-site manufactured - the use of both volumetric and panellised units

4) Sub Assemblies / Components - these can be anything from foundations, floors, roof panels or cassettes, toilet cubicles and even wiring

5) Site Based MMC - applies to innovative construction used on site and the use of conventional components in an innovative way. Eg. Tunnelform, Insulated Formwork, Aircrete or tailored products

It’s important that the MMC methodology should be underpinned by a sound business case to ensure viability. Careful and lengthy planning is needed, but both cost and time savings on site can be upwards of 30% using these techniques though.

The region can benefit from lessons learned elsewhere. These are tried and tested methods, used effectively and profitably in the UK and Europe. To make this work, some culture changes may be needed in local construction practice.

Relationship-based working could usefully be enhanced, to ensure higher levels of trust throughout the industry. Partnering and Alliancing could be a way forward. There is under-utilised contractor and consultant expertise in the region. We have the scope to explore and exploit MMC. Successfully harnessed, this expertise could add considerable value to clients’ construction programmes.

The benefits are potentially wider than the residential market. The education sector, for example, could also utilise these methods to its advantage. MMC brings significant opportunities for both public and private sectors throughout the Gulf, which could benefits clients, the construction and real estate industries and of course the occupiers of the new buildings.

Faithful+Gould offers experienced consultancy support with all aspects of MMC.