Quickly and qualitatively. How new technologies will help create housing for displaced people
Unfortunately, the war caused the biggest housing crisis in the history of Ukraine. Hundreds of thousands of buildings, both apartment buildings and private residences, were destroyed or partially damaged as a result of hostilities. According to the data provided by the analytical center CEDOS, about 1,5 million residential apartments were damaged, a third of them were completely destroyed. The Office of the President of Ukraine estimated that the current need for housing is about 600 apartments.
However, all these data today are very, very approximate, because part of Ukraine is still under occupation. In addition, Russia continues to shell Ukrainian territories, increasing the destruction. One way or another, the numbers are huge, the scale of losses is significant, and the question of how Ukrainians can return to their homes as soon as possible remains one of the main items on the agenda. Despite this, the construction industry does not stand still, and innovative technologies, including rapid construction, can come in handy during the "great reconstruction".
Together with architects and builders, they tried to figure out what rapid construction technologies exist today, whether they have significant advantages and whether they will help Ukrainians who have lost their homes to return to their own homes as soon as possible.
A six-story residential building with 183 apartments grew in Northcote (a suburb of Auckland in the north of New Zealand) in a matter of months thanks to modular construction technology. Each apartment consists of two or three modules. They are manufactured by TLC Modular in Vietnam, from where they are then shipped to Northcote. Each individual module is carefully installed by a 530-ton crane. To connect the modules, in addition to special connecting wires, the gaps between the blocks are filled with sealant. The whole process is somewhat reminiscent of assembling a Lego.
It will take approximately six weeks to install the first 79 apartments, a month to complete the finishes and another four to six months to complete site work. It helps to save time by the fact that while the modules that will be made up of the future apartments are being manufactured at the factory, preparatory work is underway on the land plots, the foundation is being laid.
Proponents of modular construction say that this technology not only speeds up the construction of structures, but also saves money, since the optimization of all production processes requires the involvement of fewer workers on the construction site and leaves less construction waste.
In addition, the production of modules at the factory is set up as a conveyor, which can significantly help to close the problem of housing shortage in countries where it has arisen due to natural disasters (such as caused by the recent devastating earthquake in Turkey), labor migration or military operations, with which, unfortunately, Ukraine faced.
However, if modular construction is both faster and cheaper than conventional technologies, does this mean that it can be of high quality? Experts say: yes.
Modular frame construction is the future
"If we consider a comparison of conventional technology, such as brick construction, and modular-frame construction, then, according to my feeling, modular-frame construction is the future. It is no worse in terms of comfort than standard brick and concrete technologies, it is faster and of better quality. Everything produced in the workshop is of an order of magnitude higher quality. It is made in a warm and dry room, it does not snow, rain, or wind. The only downside is that you have to pay for a modular house right away, while traditional construction usually requires a gradual investment of funds," says architect Oleksiy Kolerovy. Oleksiy is a Ukrainian architect, has his own architectural studio and, among other things, has been creating modern projects of serial modular houses for many years.
According to him, modular construction can solve housing problems caused by the growth of the Earth's population and labor migration, and in some countries there is already a queue for the production of modular houses. "For example, in Germany, the queue for such a house is 1,5 years. In Ukraine, this problem does not yet exist, the production time is standard, 5–6 weeks. All existing enterprises are underutilized," says the architect.
The architects of balbek bureau also speak about the quality of modular construction. The studio recently started implementing its pilot project RE:Ukraine Housing — a modular town in Vorzel.
It is not a typical modular construction, because the sections are assembled right on the site. However, the team retained some elements characteristic of modular systems: uniformity, the ability to disassemble and reassemble living sections, etc.
"The quality of any construction, including modular construction, depends on proper design, quality control and cooperation with experienced contractors, selection of quality materials, and compliance with construction norms and standards.
Modular construction, on the contrary, has advantages if we talk about the quality of housing. Since building modules are manufactured in controlled factory conditions, it allows to ensure high manufacturing quality and compliance with building standards. Control can be carried out at each stage of module production, which helps to avoid many errors and shortcomings that may occur on the construction site during traditional construction," says the studio's architect-designer Maria Kozachuk.
Another advantage of this technology, experts in the construction industry call adaptability to materials. Thus, CEO of Urban Experts Vitaly Boyko notes that the frame of the house can be made of wood, metal and concrete.
"The process is not technologically complex and requires only preliminary high-quality preparation of documentation for production and a high degree of responsibility during transportation and installation. There are no special restrictions on configuration and height: there can be 4, 24, and even more floors. Everything can be produced: from ready-made elements (walls, floors, separate structures) to parts of the building (block rooms, apartments)," Boyko says.
According to him, the Urban Experts team presented the strategy of modular construction in Ukraine in several stages as early as the summer of 2022. It provides for the rapid construction of temporary modular towns, and next to them - the construction of already full-fledged modular high-rise housing.
"We were offered to get help from Western partners to rent modular temporary houses. We chose to rent houses at the best price, rather than buying or creating new ones, because this will allow us to make temporary settlements where needed, very quickly. The next step is agreements on "Construction Lendlease" and obtaining modular kits for typical projects for residential buildings, schools, kindergartens, clinics, administrative buildings, shelters. This will encourage the development of the entire surrounding area and the construction of office and social buildings," Vitaly notes.
Speaking about the timing, the head of Urban Experts notes that a modular town is built in about 2-3 months, 5-9-storey modular houses are built next to it in 8 months, then a quarter or production and commercial premises are built by a private developer in 1,5-2 years and an office and social building is being formed.
"A kind of strategy of synergy of modular and classic construction by involving local developers is emerging. As a result, there is an opportunity to make full-fledged residential areas that are developing, to create a local economy and to attract different market players, the state and partners at the same time," Vitaliy Boyko emphasizes.
Irpin is one of the most affected cities in Kyiv region. The city authorities plan to dismantle 39 apartment buildings and approximately 1,5 thousand private residential buildings - they are not suitable for major repairs. Modular towns are a temporary solution. Two of them are currently installed in the city. One of them is on the territory of the "Dubka" sanatorium. The town has 168 residential units, and 446 residents lived there at the same time.
"Modular housing is quick assembly structures, they are insulated and quickly assembled. Almost a year has passed as people have been living there, and there have been no complaints, except for turning off the lights (as in the whole country). There were no complaints that something was not working or leaking somewhere. The problem with electricity was partially solved with the help of generators," says Andriy Kravchuk, deputy mayor of Irpen.
He says that the speed at which modular cities can be set up is influenced by both the landscape and the area, how quickly it can be cleared, and how polluted or congested it is. The first four modules were installed in Irpen during the entire summer of 2022 — 2,5 months. The Ministry of Regional Development and the Government of Poland helped in this. The houses were delivered by railway to Irpen, then they were reloaded onto large trucks and even then they were delivered one or two modules at a time.
After gaining this experience, it became easier to work further. Currently, the local authorities have an understanding of the preparatory work, and the logistics are in place. "Now in modular towns, everything is made comfortable for people: there is landscaping, laid tiles, installed air conditioners, nearby playgrounds and gazebos. As for temporary housing, people live there in comfortable conditions," Kravchuk notes.
Currently, on the territory of the "Lastivka" sanatorium, with the participation and financing of the Finnish government, another town is being assembled, which actually includes whole separate apartments. A total of 276 apartments with their own bathroom, kitchen, room and recreation area. The first 36 houses were opened in mid-May.
According to Kravchuk, housing people in modular homes is a temporary solution until people can move back into their full-fledged rebuilt apartments or private homes.
"But as a temporary solution, this is a pretty good option. What is installed in "Lastivka" are really apartments, some of them are even two-story, and they are completely independent from each other. In such conditions, I think, you can live for more than one year. They are furnished, all communications are centralized by the city government," the deputy mayor emphasizes.
He hopes that the residents of the city will live in such modular houses for a few years at most, and then people will return to their own housing.
Innovations from Ukrainian builders
The last ten years Ukrainian engineers of the Odessa company "Budova" developed their own prefab technology Well-being ConTech. She involves the production of all elements of the house of maximum readiness at the factory, followed by quick assembly on the construction site.
"This technology did not appear in one day and was not specially prepared for reconstruction after the war. We consistently developed it, spending an insane amount of resources and money. Many Western companies took part in the development, such as the British manufacturer of equipment for the production of glass fiber concrete Power-Sprays or the French company Guard Industry, together with which we developed color impregnations for external walls.
The entire construction process actually comes from one factory. The factory manufactures all elements of the house as ready as possible, together with integrated engineering communications, facade systems, double-glazed windows. We build sanitary pallets and warm floor systems into floor slabs, so they do not need to be done separately during the repair. This significantly reduces the time that a person loses on decorating the premises, and therefore on moving in.
In fact, 90% of a house can be manufactured in a factory. And this means better quality at home and much higher control of this quality than that, what possible in the conditions construction site under the open sky", says Mark Kestelboim, CEO of the Well-being ConTech division of the Budova company.
He notes that the houses will comply with urban planning regulations, they are energy efficient (corresponding to the class A certificate), resistant to progressive collapse, have state certificate on resistance to seismic vibrations.
«In our houses, we try to combine safety and aesthetics. We adopted the standard of 4-6-story modern earthquake-resistant urban villas, both the most comfortable for people, reliable from a constructive point of view, and visually attractive for the urban environment. But even if ours the buildings will reach 16 floors, thanks to engineering developments, they can withstand seismic loadsover 8,5 points.
There are now many requests from Turkey to borrow the technology, locate production there and help rebuild the earthquake affected areas. Such an anti-crisis technology turns out: it allows you to build quickly, relatively inexpensively compared to traditional construction, while ensuring better quality of objects in terms of energy consumption, sustainability and comfort of life," concluded Mark.
Speaking about the speed of construction, the company claims that the Well-being ConTech technology allows the construction of housing at a rate of 4-6 floors per month on one construction site. At the same time, the production capacity can provide 4-5 construction sites at the same time.
Digitization of the process plays a key role in speed, since every element of the house is digitized у BIM, all the elements clearly match each other and there is a digital instruction on how to assemble the house without losing the resource.
"What is no less important, our BIM standard is a guarantee of transparency of all construction estimates and zero tolerance for any corruption. The level of detail of our digital double amazes the Europeans. For example, we even take into account the digitization of individual fasteners, which almost no one does," adds the CEO of Well-being ConTech.
Digitization and factory production of buildings outside the construction site will make the entire industry more mobile and flexible
"Transferring most of the construction to production and digitization will make the construction industry more mobile and flexible. This is how Ukraine should be after the war," Kestelboim emphasizes.
3D construction: is it possible to print houses in Ukraine
Companies currently developing the direction of 3D printing of houses position it as fast, economical and ecological. 3D printed walls are erected as a fixed formwork, which saves the amount of cement used and ultimately reduces the cost of construction and environmental damage during its production. In addition, as in the prefab situation, 3D construction requires the involvement of fewer workers. Although the construction industry is skeptical of the technology and large-scale construction projects have not yet been implemented, there are still individual 3D printed houses.
A vivid example is a mini-neighborhood of four houses in the American state of Texas. The East 17th Street Residences, designed by Logan Architecture, was built with 3D-printed concrete by ICON. The walls of the first floor were erected using the ICON Vulcan construction system. It uses a robotic armature to apply cement-based layers.
The technology means that the printing material is more durable, which makes the houses more durable and resistant to extreme weather conditions. The process of building the walls lasted from five to seven days, and the cost was a third less than if the houses were built in the traditional way.
Ukraine has not yet applied 3D printing of housing in practice. Currently, only a school is being built in Lviv. The one-story building of the educational institution is being built on the initiative of the Team4UA charity fund. Ukrainian studio balbek bureau worked on the architectural project. Construction is under the supervision of the Ukrainian company 7CI Group. The 3D printer, which was rented from the Danish company COBOD International, is operated by the Danish team 3DCP Group.
Jean-Christophe Bonis, the founder and head of the humanitarian fund Team4UA, who, in fact, is the initiator of the entire project, is very positive about the new possibilities of "printing" buildings. According to him, it is fast (the construction process is 10 times faster), fewer people are involved in the process itself, and the final cost can be 10-25% less compared to the traditional way of erecting buildings.
"You have to understand that the concrete mix used in 3D printing is stronger than the concrete used in traditional construction. It is strong and earthquake resistant. According to this technology, they are building in Japan and the American California, regions where there is an increased threat of earthquakes. When we were preparing the school project, we talked with the city authorities and showed that the characteristics of the building meet all the standards and it is safe for children," he says. Jean-Christophe.
Currently, this Lviv school is a pilot project of Team4UA, on the example of which the team wants to show how construction 3D printing works, how it can help with the rapid reconstruction of the country, and offer cooperation in this direction.
"Negotiations are currently underway to build a 3-meter bridge in the Kherson region using 16D printing. And this may be the world's first bridge crossing built using 3D printing technology. Basically, you can build anything: from houses to infrastructure facilities. And this can come in handy to help Ukrainians who have lost their homes to own their own housing again. With a 3D printer, it only takes one week to build a house for a family. Ukraine is one of the few countries currently in need of housing construction in huge volumes, and yes, 3D printing can meet this need,” added Bonis.
Ideas for rebuilding Ukrainian homes with the involvement of 3D technologies are also floating around among Ukrainian specialists. Last summer, architects Lubomyr Podolyanich and Kostiantyn Rusev proposed to restore Northern Saltivka in Kharkiv with the help of 3D printing.
This area of the city suffered the most from constant Russian shelling. The architects' idea involves dismantling damaged parts of the panel structure and creating architectural "patches" from residential modules that will be printed on a 3D printer.
Rusev notes that the most important advantage of 3D printing of houses may be that after the war the country will face a shortage of human resources.
"3D construction saves time and human resources, which will be scarce after the war. I like that it can be atypical architecture. We can easily change the shape and size, if necessary, quickly correct the project. Documentation and drawings will be corrected on the computer, and the program will simply execute them. And that's cool," he notes.
At the same time, according to the architect, it is simply impossible to implement any project with 3D printing of buildings today in Ukraine due to the lack of legislative norms and a regulatory framework for construction using 3D printers.
"There are no building regulations for 3D printers in Ukraine. And this can be a problem, because you cannot build if there is no regulatory framework. When the norm appears, printers will also appear, in Ukraine they will begin to collect them and prepare mixtures. It's a matter of time," says Konstantin Rusev.
There is no single "miracle technology" that can solve all problems
Ultimately, how to rebuild the country will be determined by the government. Strategies and concepts are already being discussed today on various platforms, despite the fact that the war is not over. Architects and urban planners from all over the world join the discussions, share their experiences and offer their vision. Some experts are inclined to believe that modular construction can be a systemic solution to the destruction that the country has experienced.
"The scale of destruction in Ukraine is colossal, there are cities that have been completely wiped off the face of the earth. A recovery program can take decades. Therefore, this problem should be considered comprehensively and solutions should be chosen that will take into account both the mistakes of the past and the challenges of the future. There is no single "miracle technology" that could solve all issues, but I am sure that the system of modular construction will become a key component of the large-scale reconstruction program of Ukraine," concludes Maria Kozachuk.
The material was created with the participation of CFI, Agence française de développement médias, within the framework of the Hub Bucharest / Residency Yak Vdoma project.