Modular construction in healthcare design
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Hospitals 30 May 2022

Modular construction in healthcare design

Modular construction can deliver fast, high quality and sustainable healthcare buildings.

Modular building methods have come a long way since the eighties and nineties. Prefabricated buildings these days are smart, can be built as permanent structures, and the quality is equal to a traditional build.

With the advantages of quick construction and potentially reduced cost, the modular approach lends itself particularly well to the healthcare industry, where facilities are often made up of many of the same spaces repeated many times, such as patient bedrooms and ensuites. What’s more, modular construction offers benefits for patients and staff, too.

What is modular construction?

Modular construction involves manufacturing buildings offsite in a factory under controlled conditions. The buildings are made up of 3D components or ‘modules’, which are then transported to a site and assembled.

The modules are lifted into place by crane and then bolted to the ground using steel footings. These ensure the building remains level.

Final work is then undertaken on-site including connecting services, concealing joints between modules on the interior and exterior, and final finishings.

Modular buildings are built to contemporary standards and can be designed with all the same details as a conventional build. Once constructed, you wouldn’t know you were in a modular building.

Modular buildings are customisable, meaning they don’t all have to look the same. However, the structural components – such as walls, floors and roofs – can be standardised, which makes the manufacturing process more efficient and can make it easier to do repeat builds.

‘Delivering smaller modular projects has provided the Victorian Health Building Authority an opportunity to consider the use of modular construction on larger scale health infrastructure projects – particularly those with ambitious delivery timelines. Both small and larger-scale modular projects have provided significant lessons learnt to inform future projects and the application of modular construction.’

Samantha Morgan, Project Director, Victorian Health Building Authority

While modular construction offers advantages to all sectors, the speed and repeatability offered make it particularly well-suited to the healthcare sector in operating hospital environments.

 

Modules being installed onsite at a new residential rehabilitation facility in Corio

Advantages for healthcare

The sooner a healthcare facility is built, the sooner it can start treating patients. But there also needs to be consideration for cost and quality. So what makes modular construction a well-suited option for the healthcare sector?

There are a number of advantages. In a nutshell, they are:

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Reduced cost

Depending on the requirements, modular buildings can be less costly to build. Because they are constructed in a factory environment, any defects can be caught and corrected as they come up without affecting other areas of the project. The factory environment also means costly delays due to bad weather can be avoided.

Modular construction won’t always save money, however. A lot will depend on the project’s unique requirements.

Fast project timelines

Modular construction can considerably cut down on the time needed to build a healthcare facility, which can mean more patients can be admitted and treated faster. The factory environment helps avoid weather delays in the manufacturing stage, and buildings can be constructed while other works are occurring on the site.

‘Modular construction is generally 40-50 per cent faster than traditional builds due to the majority of works taking place within a controlled factory environment. This also means building manufacture works can take place concurrently to site works, speeding the build timeline up even further.’

Bill Alexandrakis, General Manager, Building, Victoria, Lendlease Building

Quality

Modular buildings are constructed under the same codes and regulations as traditional builds. Once assembled, they are indistinguishable from a traditional build. 

Unlike traditional builds, modular buildings are made in a factory where the materials are protected from the weather – a common cause of issues in traditional builds. 

Less disruption to hospital operations

As modular buildings are constructed offsite in a factory, noise and disruption to hospital operations, staff and patients is minimised.

The onsite workforce is reduced, as are the daily traffic impacts. This means healthcare professionals can get on with the job of providing care with minimal disruption.

Good for the environment

Modular construction is a sustainable way to build. As modules are made inside a factory, waste can be prevented because there is better control of the conditions.

Modular construction also involves less energy consumption, which in the long run means less carbon emissions.

‘Prefabrication is the ultimate way to build sustainably. Overall, it is estimated that modular construction reduces energy consumption during the building process by around 60 per cent.’

Bill Alexandrakis, General Manager, Building, Victoria, Lendlease Building

And while modular buildings can be designed as site-specific, permanent buildings, there are ways to engineer them for relocation. This means less waste, because buildings can be re-used when they’re not needed instead of being knocked down and going into landfill. It also means less raw materials and energy are spent on a new building.

Modules on their way to form an acute mental health facility at the McKellar Centre in Geelong

Designing a modular healthcare facility

To bring a modular building to life, architects and designers apply the same design skills they’d use on a traditional build. However, there are some key points that designers must consider.

‘The goal is to produce healthcare environments that are robust, cost-effective, meet the performance standards of the health activities they accommodate and are attractive therapeutic environments for building users.’

Judith Hemsworth, Principal Advisor Design – Mental Health, Department of Health

What design factors are important?

It’s important to make sure modular construction is the right choice for a project. The best time to decide this is in the early stages of planning. Factors to consider include:

  • Repeatable elements: Is the proposed facility made up of enough repeatable elements that can be standardised to reduce cost? Or, will the project require a lot of uniquely sized and varied modules to accommodate the proposed activities?
     
  • Location: Does the location allow for large modules to be delivered to the site and safely craned into place? On a crowded hospital campus, for instance, is there enough space for a crane to lift modules into a multi-storey structure without interrupting the running of the hospital?
     
  • Fitting the modules together: Designers will face different structural constraints to those they traditionally work with. For example, modular construction increases the width of the spacing between the internal faces of the walls of adjacent rooms in different modules. It’s important that they are designed to fit together neatly. However, that extra gap can also be of great benefit when designing a building where noise reduction is needed. Beginning design work with these things in mind can reduce time and challenges. It helps with converting designs based on traditional construction into drawings from which modules can be manufactured.

Co-design

A significant advantage for healthcare patients is how well modular construction supports the co-design process. 

Co-design means involving people with lived experience in the design process, so that the results of the design meet their needs.

A module that will be produced in large numbers, such as a patient bedroom and ensuite, can be built with all its fixtures and finishes and then tested by patients, carers and staff. This helps them understand the scale of a space, how it sounds and what it feels like.

‘This prototyping approach was used with great effect on the Mental Health Beds Expansion Program. Multiple stakeholders visited the prototype and provided extensive feedback that was captured and used to enhance the design for each site. The module allowed stakeholders to identify not only what they wanted, but also what they wanted to do differently.’

Judith Hemsworth, Principal Advisor Design – Mental Health, Department of Health

How we are using modular construction

The regional alcohol and drug residential rehabilitation program

In late 2021, we delivered three state-of-the-art residential rehabilitation facilities in regional Victoria.

The three facilities, in Corio, Traralgon and Wangaratta, were the first of their kind in the health infrastructure space to be delivered using full modular construction.

In just 10 months, we were able to add 80 beds to Victoria’s drug and alcohol rehabilitation service network – which will support 900 Victorians experiencing addiction, annually.

Construction of the new residential rehabilitation facility in Corio

Read the accessible video transcript

Learn more about the Regional alcohol and drug residential rehabilitation program via our dedicated program page.

Mental Health Beds Expansion Program

We’re delivering 120 new acute public mental health beds to urgently respond to recommendations from the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System.

The new beds are located at:

  • Northern Hospital in Epping (30 beds)
  • The McKellar Centre in North Geelong (16 beds)
  • Sunshine Hospital in St Albans (52 beds)
  • The Royal Melbourne Hospital, Parkville (22 beds).  

The facilities at Northern Hospital, Sunshine Hospital and The McKellar Centre are each using modular construction. Across the three sites, we’re building very different modular buildings, each with their own characteristics and challenges.

By using modular construction, together with Lendlease Building as the Managing Contractor we were able to install 137 modules at the McKellar Centre in eight weeks. 

‘The McKellar Centre is being built adopting a “cold shell” approach, where a structural steel frame, facade elements and roof are built offsite, and all the internal fit out elements are completed onsite.’

Bill Alexandrakis, General Manager, Building, Victoria, Lendlease Building

The first stage of the Northern Hospital, on top of a two-storey carpark and involving 127 modules, was completed in just five weeks.

The 16-bed facility at The McKellar Centre is on track to be completed in mid-2022 – a timeframe of 11 months from commencement onsite to project completion. 

The beds at Northern Hospital and Sunshine Hospital are also expected to reach practical completion in late 2022 and early 2023 respectively. 

‘The modular approach to construction lends itself well to single level buildings, with standardised repeatable layouts that have been designed from commencement with modular in mind.’

Samantha Morgan, Project Director, Victorian Health Building Authority

Learn how the facilities were designed

Read the accessible video transcript

The Mental Health Expansion Program won the Infrastructure (Planning and Design) Award at the 2021 IAP2 Australasia Core Values Awards, and the Excellence in Community Engagement Award at the 2021 Urban Developer Awards

The McKellar Centre facility was Highly Commended in the Service Design Award category at the 2021 Victorian Premier’s Design Awards

Learn more about the Mental Health Beds Expansion Program via our dedicated program page.
 

The Victorian Health Building Authority is responsible for the planning and delivery of the Victorian Government’s multibillion-dollar health infrastructure program.

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Last updated: 30 May 2022