A spotlight on instant building designs

Wherever you look in the world, there is a need for buildings to go up fast. Super quick construction methods have the potential to be used to solve housing crises and provide much-needed shelter and facilities in disaster areas. Over the decades, architects and engineers have come up with innovative ways to build quickly.

Fold-out buildings

It is hard to pinpoint when the first fold-out building was created. However, the methods and technology used in today’s folding buildings have been around longer than you think. For example, many modern fold-out structures incorporate slide-out units. That is to say, part of the building slides into and fits inside the main body of another part of the building, rather like a set of Russian dolls. This technology was borrowed from the motorhome industry where it has been in use for over a hundred years.

Today, engineers have combined this technology along with other clever methods to build liveable fold-out homes. The breakthrough came when Ten Fold Engineering created its lever system. This engineering firm has been able to design a home that can be deployed in just eight minutes.

Temporary modular buildings

If you have been a fan of Formula One racing for a while, you will have seen the teams move from using basic motorhomes as their race headquarters, to using modular buildings instead. These huge multistorey structures can be erected in as little as 18 hours.

They sit on a rigid metal base. Once that is in place, the modules, which look a bit like construction site cabins, are craned into place and fixed to the metal grid.

Another well-known example is the prefabs that were built in large numbers in the UK at the end of WWII. These were delivered in four 7ft 6inch wide sections that were butted up against each other and joined together on site. The kitchen and bathrooms were preinstalled in these homes. Interestingly, over 70 years later, thousands of these temporary buildings are still in use.

Permanent modular buildings

However, these are tiny structures when compared with some of the modular buildings that are being put up in places like China. Mini Sky City in Hunan Province is perhaps the best example. This 57-storey skyscraper took only 19 days to put up on site. The 2,700 modules were all pre-built in a factory and delivered to the site.

Another example is the shipping container buildings, which are popping up in many different countries. For the most part, these are two- or three-storey blocks being built mainly by charities to provide emergency housing. Perhaps the most famous example of this type of project is The Jungle migrant camp in Calais. There, tents and shacks were torn down and a limited number of container homes took their places.

However, increasingly larger buildings are being built from them, especially hotels. The Hilton Hotel at Bristol Airport was constructed using shipping containers. Manchester’s 220-room Holiday Inn Express was also built this way.

Prefabricated or flat pack buildings

Prefabricated buildings are not dissimilar to the modular kind, but there are differences. These are typically delivered in flat pack form. This format has been around for decades, but earlier models took weeks to piece together like giant Mecanno sets. Modern versions can be constructed in as little as half a day.

Printed buildings

The development of 3D printers has led to the ability to print buildings. Surprisingly, there are several examples out there. Most of them use extruded concrete. The walls are printed one layer at a time, and each layer is about as thick as a house brick.

However, the University of Nantes has developed a 3D robot that deposits three layers of material in each run consisting of concrete and two types of expansive foam. A Dutch architecture studio is developing a printer that can use recycled materials. Others are looking at using hemp and other fibres mixed with concrete.

Mass labour quick builds

When it comes to fast building, there are several approaches. We have already seen how quickly prefabricated, folding and printed buildings can be constructed, but we would be remiss if we did not mention mass labour projects. As you will see, these buildings can go up super-fast.

Pulling together a large labour force to quickly erect a building is not a new method. This collective way or putting up large structures has been going on for centuries. There are records dating back to the 18th Century of barn-raisings, where members of the community would come together to literally build barns.

This method is used to this day by many US Amish communities, and it is not uncommon for Jehovah’s Witnesses to build their Kingdom Halls in this way. Over the course of the weekend, hundreds work together to build a new place or worship.

The only work done prior to daybreak, on Saturday morning, is the laying of the concrete slab and foundations. They need to dry out. At dawn, on Saturday, timber frames are constructed and erected with the roof truces. Almost simultaneously, bricklayers start putting up the exterior walls. Plumbing and electrics also begin to go in at this point. Most of the roof usually goes on before it gets dark. By early Sunday afternoon, the hall is decorated and ready for use.

Inflatable buildings

When people hear about inflatable buildings, understandably, they tend to think of relatively small tent-like structures. These do exist, but, surprisingly, the vast majority are huge. The Dome in Anchorage, Alaska is perhaps the most famous example. The structure covers 180,000 square feet, and inside it is a sports complex complete with a 400-meter running track.

The air that keeps the building rigid is constantly being adjusted to keep it in place, regardless of the weather conditions. This is achieved with the help of sensors that measure wind speed and snowfall.

Pop-up concrete domes

These domes, which are relatively new, are built using the pneumatic wedge method. First, forms for concrete are laid out over the top of a deflated air cushion. As they set, metal beams and cables are attached to the slabs.

The cushion is then inflated, lifting the concrete slabs off the floor. As this happens, the cables are pulled on to ensure the dome fits closely to the dome-shaped cushion. Once the structure is secure, the cushion is deflated and removed, leaving behind a 164 square-foot structure. This is all done in around two hours.

As you can see, there are many different types of instant buildings. No doubt demand for new housing and other types of structures will lead to even more instant build methods being developed in the near future.

Posted by Mark
September 13, 2018

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