VDC + Modular: Design Phase

Part I: Design Phase

VDC + Modular: Not Another Bathroom Pod

Owen Huisenga: A few years back, BIM Forum hosted a conference focused on prefabrication + offsite construction. At the time, many of the design/construction approaches to prefabrication revolved around componentized manufacturing – design and construct a [smallish] portion of the Work to be reproduced in large quantities, shipped to the site, and inserted into a pre-existing structure. It turned out that several companies were exploring and executing prefabrication on – you guessed it – patient bathroom pods.

Prefabricating portions of the Work offsite in controlled working environments is a fantastic way to increase efficiency, reduce change orders, accelerate schedule, create safer working conditions, and control quality. So here’s the question: if we can realize these benefits 100sf at a time (one bathroom pod), could we realize more benefits if we built 800sf at a time (one module)?

Yes; however…

Because we are building differently, we must design differently. When 70-80% of the building (structure and MEP/FP included) comes pre-fabricated on the back of a truck, the design needs to be developed to align with the actual means and methods of construction. Tocci’s VDC team is collaborating with our Owners, Designers, and Trade Contractors to push the model to a higher level of development, representing the Work in a manner that is easily accessible and visually communicates the impacts of design decisions.

VDC’s role in schematic design is to educate our Owner and Design Partners in what we refer to as modular constraints.

A constraint in this context is not necessarily a negative. It is simply something that differs from a conventionally delivered project. Again, because we are building differently, we must design differently. Some of the ways we educate our partners include:

  • Reviewing design for modular feasibility
  • Communicating impacts of modular constraints
  • Addressing negative perception of modular
  • Gaining early approval + Owner signoff of layout + finishes
  • Analyzing, selecting, and coordinating the MEP/FP systems
  • Refining construction schedule + budget

During design development our role shifts from educating, to planning the Work.

While we are working with our Owners and Designers to develop the project, we are also working with our own internal Operations team to plan how these large, heavy, trailer-sized modules will be picked and set. Some of the plans we implement are established by:

  • Developing modular sequencing, site logistics, and NFPA 241 plans
  • Coordinating critical connection points and interactions between onsite + offsite construction
  • Memorializing made-decisions into a single source document

Because modular really front-loads the design + decision processes, construction documentation becomes merely the documentation of decisions previously made. Therefore, VDC’s role in CDs is then more quality control (QAQC) than active intervention or systems coordination. We are placing our VDC persons specifically into these highly-collaborative roles because they come to us with design backgrounds. In fact, the entire VDC department consists of individuals each with backgrounds in both architecture and construction. Because they have worn, and continue to wear, both hats on our projects, VDC is able to assist our design partners in the:

  • Management of the Construction Documents
  • Completeness of the Construction Documents

We will be going into more detail on VDC’s involvement in construction in an upcoming post.

Stay tuned for Part II: Construction Phase!