Prefabricated construction, prefab, precast, off-site construction — all these are synonyms of construction technology, in which pre-made elements or parts of the building are used. At the mention of prefab construction, people from non-architectural circles mostly imagine small, often temporary structures. Something similar to containers, tents or houses in the forest, these are called "cabin" in the English-speaking world.
Modern glamping sites, comfortable chalets, tiny houses and other "hygienic" buildings are only a small part of the architecture in which the potential of prefab is realized. We will try to tell more about the rest and the Ukrainian contexts of prefabricated construction.
Prefab - from English Prefabricated — "manufactured in a factory way." Prefab technologies assume that structures are built from standardized fragments or parts manufactured in a closed workshop and delivered to the site
Prefab structures have been widely used in construction for at least several hundred years. For convenience, this experience can be divided into two parts: construction of housing and infrastructure facilities — exhibition complexes, stadiums, bridges, airports, transport terminals, etc.
Regarding infrastructure, a vivid historical example is mentioned — British Crystal Palace. A huge exhibition pavilion made of glass and steel was erected in Hyde Park for the World's Fair in 1851. After the event, the building, which became famous, was dismantled and moved to another district, where it stood for another 85 years.
Prefabricated structures were used in the construction of iconic buildings of the XNUMXth century, such as the Sydney Opera House and the Pompidou Center in Paris. Prefab came in handy for solving complex engineering tasks during the construction of the Øresund cable-stayed bridge between Denmark and Sweden, one of the most famous European transport projects. The tubular sections of the tunnel, supports and caissons for the giant structure were delivered from land in a condition prepared for installation. A fresh large-scale project — The 30-kilometer SHOAS Bridge, laid in 2020 across Brunei Bay. The use of prefabricated structures allowed to reduce the amount of construction debris and the impact on the nearby protected mangrove swamps.
Historically, the use of a "builder" for housing has often been the answer to complex challenges. As they say, not from a good life, but in an attempt to ensure post-war recovery, to solve the housing issue in an era of economic changes. Even in the mid-zeros, a new wave of popularity of prefabs was caused by the crisis in the real estate markets in the United States and Europe.
In the context of the war that we are going through, attention to the possibilities of quick construction in Ukraine has also increased manifold.
The American experience of using SHMK begins with housing during the "gold rush", when many home kits were supplied from Germany, France and China. In the first decades of the XNUMXth century the commercial idea of the American retailer Sears, Roebuck and Co. thundered. The company created catalogs with models of various cottages that had a fixed price. Clients ordered housing and received materials by mail.
After the Second World War in the States, thanks to the use of prefabs, the budget American dream was realized — Levittowns with white picket fences built for veteran families. This became the first global experience of mass low-rise construction.
In European countries, such as Britain, in order to overcome the post-war housing crisis, the main bets were also placed on houses with wooden and metal frames (sometimes waste from the aviation industry was used for them), asbestos panels, and later on precast concrete. The Emergency Factory Made (EFM) program was not as successful as planned, but between 1945 and 1955 it provided the British with 1,5 million new homes.
Prefabs and socialism — it's about personal experience, typical five- and nine-story buildings stand before your eyes. At a time when the Western world mainly concentrated on individual low-rise buildings, in the countries of the Warsaw Pact and the USSR itself, a typical high-rise panel and block construction made of precast reinforced concrete flourished. German plattenbau, Bulgarian "panels", Soviet "Khrushchevki", "Brezhnevki", "ships" and buildings of other series — such housing became a marker of the era. ZBK at Soviet specialized enterprises, in particular in Ukraine, produced more than in a number of countries of the "unfriendly West". House-building plants and factories were combined into a separate industry. As a result, we have extensive experience in the production and use of precast concrete structures. As for the development of a wider typology of prefabs, the freedom of architectural and engineering thought in general — unfortunately, a lot of time was lost.
It is interesting that the situation has turned around in a certain way: currently developers and manufacturers of prefab in Ukraine mainly use its arsenal for individual solutions, on the other hand, in global practice, prefabricated structures have become more interesting for large-scale or high-rise construction, especially taking into account the latest material and technical base, BIM capabilities -designing.
In 2022, the construction of the high-rise complex De Zalmhaven was completed in Rotterdam. The project was developed by architectural offices Dam & Partners, KAAN Architecten and implemented by the developer AM & Amvest and the company Byldis, which specializes in the latest construction technologies using precast concrete, sandwich panels and facade decoration of its own production.
One of the three towers of the complex, Zalmhaven I, with a height of 215 m, became the tallest residential building not only in the Netherlands, but also in Benelux in general. The skyscraper is completely built from precast concrete elements. During the construction of Zalmhaven I, a special enclosed temperature-controlled and air-conditioned "hangar" was used that moved along the facade, allowing the team to complete one floor of the building each week. Due to the speed and height of the work, the tower construction process was called a "flying factory" in the media.
The Dutch Byldis — one of the leading companies in Northern Europe that uses the latest technologies in construction. The title on the page of their website says: Prefab is fabulous (Prefab — wonderful, from English — Approx. ed.). When building Zalmhaven, they were clearly not guided by considerations of overcoming a demographic or some other crisis.
At the same time, today the global construction community is becoming more attentive to architects, designers, developers, and brands from Ukraine. They are building abroad with the use of prefabs of domestic production. Manufacturers of materials, modules, and home kits are focused not only on the domestic market, but also on foreign consumers.
In response to the growing interest in prefab in Ukraine and the challenges of wartime, the Ukrainian Association of Prefab Manufacturers (PBAM) was founded in 2022. Currently, it unites more than 300 companies, as well as experts of the budhaluzi, scientists, representatives of local communities. The main mission of the Association now is to unite the efforts of manufacturers in providing housing for IDPs and people who have lost their homes.
In order to classify this or that object as prefab architecture, it is not important what materials it is made of, they can be different. It is important HOW
The global methodology of using prefabs took shape in Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) — "modern construction methods", or "smart construction" = "intelligent construction", which relies on a different arsenal than the usual capital, monolithic-frame one.
MMC combines construction alternatives that involve the development, production in controlled conditions and mass application of various structures. These can be volumetric elements and modules (for example, entire rooms or sections), panels and slabs made of different materials, frames, prefabricated foundations, etc. Such a construction has a certain specificity in the execution of connections in order to achieve quality indicators of strength, energy efficiency and speed of installation.
Why modern construction business pays attention to prefab
The latest construction methods have a number of advantages. This is stable and high quality products, because all "semi-finished products" are manufactured in controlled conditions: clean, dry, ventilated workshops. Prefab construction is as clean as possible, without a large amount of construction debris. It practically does not depend on weather conditions and the season and can be carried out by a small team of specialists without the use of complex scaffolding and long-term work at height in the "cradle". Projects using prefab are implemented many times faster than a monolith. The listed advantages are important for construction safety.
Regarding the economy, it is generally accepted that prefab construction is more profitable than monolithic frame construction. In fact, the cost of materials is often comparable to those used in classic versions. But the time and number of specialists employed in construction matters. Shorter terms mean lower costs for paying workers (their staff is also smaller), renting equipment and transport, consumables for offices, etc.
Regarding the registration of a prefabricated house, depending on the type, it can be registered as an MAF or even as a vehicle, or a standard package of documents based on a building passport and ownership rights, a plot lease agreement is considered. An important characteristic for determining registration requirements is the presence or absence of a foundation.
The latest technologies provide a wide range of constructive, planning solutions for architects and builders, the choice of facade decoration, and most of them are adopted "on the shore".
Off-site construction is convenient for projects with high typification, when there are many identical or similar spaces, for example, for hotels, hospitals, dormitories, institutional buildings. Prefab is often the optimal solution for areas with complex terrain or where there are no centralized engineering communications.
Chief creative architect of the bureau archimatika Mykola Morozov says: projects involving the use of prefabs must be developed in great detail.
"Prefab needs a perfect project, which will be completely thought out not only architecturally, but also technologically. Architects must work in conjunction with manufacturing technologists to understand all the possibilities of how this or that architectural solution can be implemented. And this is a time-consuming stage of work BEFORE the start of construction." — notes Morozov.
The stages seem to change places here: prefab construction is characterized by a longer period of project creation and faster implementation. Instead, in the classic construction formula, to which the domestic industry is more accustomed, it is important to quickly start the process at the level of drilling on the site, setting piles for the foundation, etc.; then construction continues, but the apartments can already be sold.
"Prefab offers quite a lot of interesting possibilities from the point of view of facades to achieve expressiveness of the building, — says the architect — original invoices can be created and these options can also be economically feasible. We had several projects where such options were considered at the level of concepts and prototypes. The main question, after all, is time, the specifics of the Ukrainian market are such. Sufficient time should be set aside to develop a high-quality solution."
Another point that Mykola Morozov draws attention to is — social. Real estate buyers do not always go into the details of what modern prefabricated structures are — this is not a prefab from the past. "There are certain associations with the residential heritage of the Soviet era, when people hear the word "panelka", it causes negative parallels. If we take historical contexts, in the high-rise buildings of that time, the entire structural scheme consisted of panels. A modern prefab can be frame-monolithic, or in the building, only the hinged elements of the external facades will be prefabricated, for example. However, sometimes people do not go into these details." — notes the architect.
Logistics is extremely important for the industry: the transfer of building materials, modules, container housing to a plot or construction site. The long journey from the place of manufacture to the place of installation can significantly affect the total cost due to transportation costs for the initially moderate price of the project. This should be taken into account when choosing a supplier of materials or ready-made modular units.
Statistics of the Ukrainian prefab market
For a more systematic understanding of the structure of prefabricated construction in Ukraine, PRAGMATIKA asked for a comment from the founder and head of the Prefabricated Buildings Association of Manufacturers, doctor of philosophy in the field of law (Ph.D.), head of international projects Alina Moskalenko.
According to the Association, more than 312 companies (as of the beginning of March 2023) represent the Ukrainian segment of SHMC production. The market of Ukraine gradually filled up, the "first swallows" appeared around zero — manufacturers of houses based on containers, metal and wooden structures. In the period 2011–2020, they were joined by companies that work with SIP-panel, CLT-panel construction technologies, develop typologies of prefabricated houses using straw, reed, technical hemp, etc.
In 2021 and 2022, the demand for quick-installation structures began to grow, new players appear in the industry. The reasons for these changes are clear: the full-scale war created a demand for both temporary and permanent housing for people who lost their homes, as well as solutions for further reconstruction. The construction market of Ukraine in the conditions of a full-scale war is going through difficult times, but the processes are quite rapid in the prefab segment.
"In 2021-2022, 71% more producers registered than in the previous two years. This is accompanied by an increased demand for objects of rapid construction," — Alina Moskalenko
The head of PBAM draws attention to several features of the Ukrainian market of prefabricated construction: firstly, its segmentation is quite difficult to determine quantitatively, because SMB is part of the general construction market. "Secondly, the market is represented by companies that use various technologies, SMB is not always the main activity of the manufacturer. Up to 70–80% of the production of quickly assembled structures and structures is currently occupied by the shadow market, — continues Moskalenko. — Now we are observing the active emergence of "garage" production of modular houses. Most of ShMC's production facilities are located in regions with increased business activity: in Kyiv region, in Lviv, Odesa, and Dnipropetrovsk regions."
According to PBAM, 24% of Ukrainian companies manufacture and build prefabricated buildings on wooden frames, another 18% — modular buildings on wooden frames, 22% of companies — prefabricated buildings on a metal frame and another 13% — modular buildings on a metal frame. The remainder is accounted for by manufacturers of SIP panels, CLT and others.
Given that the SMB market is relatively new for Ukraine and has only started to develop rapidly in recent years, there are significant gaps in definitions and regulatory mechanisms.
According to Alina Moskalenko, there is still almost no or no systematized terminology regarding prefab and SHMC in DBN, as well as certain standards, legal acts and protective mechanisms that would regulate the "rules of the game" and ensure the improvement of the qualifications of manufacturers. Unfortunately, this creates opportunities for dumping and discrediting the technology by individual business representatives. There are also problems related to the obsolescence of some norms.
"It is very important to harmonize national and European standards. Eurozone countries have more experience in using the latest construction technologies, so it would be worthwhile to study their experience and existing regulatory mechanisms for the production and construction of SHMC in order to develop quality criteria for prefabs in Ukraine." — Alina Moskalenko notes. — These aspects require attention, at the same time, quick-mounted technologies are an absolute analogue of classic ones, provided that all technical requirements are met, they meet the principles of environmental friendliness and energy efficiency. Houses made using modern construction materials deserve the attention of end users and, first of all, those people whose homes have suffered significant damage/destruction. In particular, as a long-term or permanent solution."
Verification in practice
To talk about the industry without studying specific cases and experience of practitioners — useless business PRAGMATIKA involved manufacturers of materials and home kits, architectural bureaus that have been working with prefabricated construction technologies for a long time to cover the topic. A separate point of our conversation was the post-war reconstruction of the country and the problem of creating housing for Ukrainian IDPs.
Earlier we published a detailed review about Mother and Child Center "Unbreakable Mothers" in Lviv — two houses for mothers with children and pregnant women who were forced to leave their homes. The project of this temporary housing was developed by the bureau Sulyk Architects.
Architect Taras Sulyk says: the tasks set before the team by the organizers and customers required laconic architectural solutions that could be implemented quickly. Houses for "Unbreakable Mothers" were assembled from pre-made elements.
"When it comes to prefab, there are mainly two ways of erecting structures: the first — when using a ready-made module or several modules assembled into one. And the second — when a prefabricated structure is erected from prefabricated parts. In our case, it is the second option. The base of the houses was assembled from ready-made panels, the wooden roof trusses were made in the workshop and mounted on the site. Frame walls were assembled on site, as there was no time left for transportation and installation in the workshop. As for the exterior trim, the metal sheets for the facade were also fabricated and cut in the factory, according to specifications. Some parts of metal parts for connections and joints were prepared at the factory, the rest were formed on the equipment directly on the construction site." — explains Taras Sulyk.
Currently, the center is more than half occupied, it has become a temporary home for families and newborn children whose hometowns are dangerous. The wooden frame of buildings can be used for up to 50 years.
Sulyk Architects are the authors of another concept, the implementation of which includes prefab technologies: this is a series of small houses for living outside the city, which will be 100% assembled at the factory. They have a characteristic silhouette and differ in layout, area and filling.
"Simple designs are the most attractive and timeless. Our priority is not diverse or extraordinary designs, but ecological, attractive and affordable, - adds Taras Sulyk. "We are convinced that brevity is the highest sophistication."
The team shared visualizations with the editors.
In the reality of the war, attention to the possibilities of quick-installation construction in Ukraine increased manifold
Hryhoriy Boychuk, architect, managing partner GRIM Architecture & Urbanism, founder of the NGO "Your home in Ukraine", tells PRAGMATIKA: the office has a long-standing interest in modular and prefab technologies.
"We held brainstorms on working out and analyzing a possible planning structure in our team five years ago. At that time, prefab was not very popular in Ukraine, the trend was born. Currently, the situation is completely different, there are many enterprises that offer modular solutions for private customers. Most often, these are small individual residential houses or summer cottage options, saunas, and household premises. Modular houses show themselves very well as a replacement for manor houses or, for example, in the segment of vacation, hotel real estate, in which we mainly work. Technologically, most often these are classic frame houses made of wood, sometimes there is SIP technology."
"Theoretically, we considered the possibility of designing a radial town for 1000 people", - Hryhoriy Boychuk
Boychuk explains: in Ukrainian realities, this approach is bribed by financial availability and convenience. The construction process on the site itself is minimized, operationally only the preparation of the base and network, the foundation (if any) and the installation of the imported structure or several of its fragments remain. The architect notes: for the world market, such methods are not new, but the purpose and requests there are already a little different. As an example, he cites a 20-story prefab dormitory built in the London district of Lewisham.
After February 24 of last year, when the company's commercial projects went on an indefinite pause, the GRIM team focused on volunteering and finding solutions for IDPs.
"Together with a small cohort of like-minded people, we formed a vision of possible housing options for Ukrainians who lost their homes. The vision of the NGO "Your home in Ukraine" was formed. In this search, the experience of working with prefab technology turned out to be useful."
The first concept of GRIM Architecture & Urbanism in the framework of creating housing for displaced persons was the individual residential building "House", the project provided for the possibility of adding modules as the family grew or the economy developed. "In terms of structure, it is something very similar to garden cooperatives, where everyone has 5-6 acres of land and their own small house. Theoretically, we considered the possibility of designing such a radial settlement for 1000 people." — says Boychuk.
The range of offers from GRIM and the NGO "Your Home in Ukraine" was supplemented by a project of modular co-living with compact apartments. According to the authors' idea, they could be used for permanent residence of IDPs and in the future move to the segment of hostels/hotels or work as social municipal housing for affordable rent. Concepts were presented to government representatives, however, as Hryhoriy Boychuk notes, as of today, the attention of the state apparatus is mainly focused on the creation of systemic strategic programs, such as the national reconstruction fund, mortgages, and others.
"Now the main support is in the construction of towns for IDPs — these are international agreements, cooperation with foreign structures, charitable organizations and foundations. Or small projects are implemented on the ground." — states the architect.
Boychuk says: within the framework of the activities of the NGO, it was possible to establish contacts with the Kolomyia City Council in the Ivano-Frankivsk region and jointly develop a project for a town with an area of 10 hectares, integrated into the existing city infrastructure. The presentation took place on April 28, 2023 at the Community Forum in Kolomyia.
"Will modular technology be XNUMX% used there — while it's hard to say, it doesn't depend solely on us. But she helped us to form the concept, vision and main parameters of the building." — summarizes Hryhoriy Boychuk.
Founder and CEO of Koleroviy Architecture & Design office Oleksiy Kolerovy has 20 years of experience in designing residential and commercial architecture. Currently, the architect is involved in several programs to create housing for people affected by the war. As part of this work, the Koleroviy Architecture team is responsible for the development of the growing modular house BE|LIVE.
The architect states: the world market of construction prefab is growing at a crazy pace. "I follow the posts of foreign specialists, one of them reviews new productions every week," — he says. Another trend is the reduction of the average area of residential buildings. In the US, this figure has changed from 300 m² to 145 m² in the last 30-40 years. All-European trend — homes for a family of four with an area of no more than 80–90 m². The reasons for this lie both in the economy and in the change of people's attitude towards their own housing.
"In the past, consumers more often chose houses "for growth", planning to live in them, if not for the rest of their lives, then at least for the next 15-20 years. Currently, consumers do not buy large houses, later changing housing depending on financial ability, changes in the family, birth of children, — Kolerovy notes. — We all began to move much more often, so the size of the house is not so important for people, as the ability to easily buy it and sell it if necessary. Prefab houses are much more convenient in this regard. I am impressed by their very idea and the quality of construction. According to architecture, off-site construction is a big future."
"A market of small houses has appeared, which are not "final", but which help families not to put off life and dreams for later", — Oleksiy Kolerovy
Kolerovy notes: in past years, not so many architects were involved in this segment, and the very typology and appearance of prefab houses were mostly not so attractive that everyone wanted to live in them. Quantitatively, the volumes of production of prefabricated housing and classic houses were not comparable. The architect clearly sees a "watershed" in the Ukrainian prefab market before and after 2022.
"Right now, it makes up a fairly large percentage of the work at Koleroviy Architecture & Design. For partners, we are an architectural company that develops house projects for serial production. Currently, the bureau cooperates with several manufacturers." — says Oleksiy Kolerovy.
Kolerovy and his team started cooperation in the framework of helping people who lost their homes back in May 2022, when they developed a concept for a temporary town on a pro bono basis: "For the first time, we were invited to participate by a volunteer organization. The project was planned to be implemented with the involvement of funds from foreign donors. According to the plan, it was a complex of eight of our houses, designed for 32 families, on a plot of 1,4 hectares in the Kyiv region, as an alternative to square Polish modular towns. A rather interesting general plan with a large green space without cars, a children's and sports ground."
The town was supposed to be built in two months and handed over in September of last year. According to the architect, this is a real term for prefab technologies, but the project was not implemented. "Obligations from our side have been fulfilled, the production of houses has also started. The fund with which they worked was ready, but later both production and the project itself were stopped. The local government had to provide the plot of land for use for four years, it also had to provide engineering networks for the town. Most likely, changes took place in these obligations due to certain reasons. Maybe later the project will be restored." — Kolerovy says.
The project of the buildings in question was called BE|LIVE, it is an author's model developed by the architectural company of Oleksiy Kolerovoy. The base house is designed for four families with separate entrances and two common walls. Each BE|LIVE house is composed of different blocks of 30, 40 or 50 square meters. In this way, you can create comfortable housing for different users and the number of people: with one-room units, for large and small families, families with children or for the elderly.
"Construction prefabs are our inevitable future, just like AI and Chat GPT", — Oleksiy Kolerovy
"Later, I was approached by representatives of local authorities, BE|LIVE went into animation in state programs," says the architect. "Currently, I no longer have the opportunity to track in which cities they are being built, this is another level of communication."
"An interesting story came out of BE|LIVE, — shared by Oleksiy Kolerovy, — I talked a lot about this project. It was created with a social mission, but later people started asking if they could order such a house. Therefore, we completed the project for private clients by changing the internal layout.
The very idea of being able to start with one block of, say, 50m² and being able to add others, — now is the time. Today, many Ukrainians are working for victory, spending resources to help our military and volunteers. A "growing" house can adapt to changes in the family or the financial capabilities of the owners. This type of housing makes it possible not to postpone the need for later. Have a small house — it's better than having nothing."
The architect believes: for Ukraine, prefab can become one of the main ways to provide housing to people who have lost it. However, what path will the state take? — difficult to determine. "Most likely, it will be some kind of symbiosis of the latest technology and already present on the market. The existing technology will save jobs for workers who are involved in the reinforced concrete, capital segments, and the new technology will provide new jobs and "quick" housing." — Kolerovy notes.
The architect draws attention to one more detail: "Today, Ukrainian manufacturers are increasing cooperation with foreign companies, making houses for European customers based on their local architecture: the same half-timbered houses, A-frame houses, barn houses, etc. However, this local European typology implemented by our manufacturers may look like a copy or an imitation from the customer's point of view. Associatively, it seems to me similar to if Ukrainians ordered, say, borscht in Germany. How would we feel about it? How would we rate the product? Could it be considered authentic?".
According to Oleksiy Kolerovoy, it is very important to develop one's own typology: "We have to invent authentic Ukrainian architecture. To determine the DNA of the Ukrainian house so that our houses are exceptionally clear and can be immediately distinguished from other architecture. We lived through a time when language was imposed on us for communication. The architecture of residential buildings is also a language, and there should be no inferiority complex about it. I would like customers in North America and Europe to look and say: this is a beautiful Ukrainian house. They noted our creativity and hard work. These homes would also be cost competitive because they would not be a copycat and would stand out from the crowd. This is my main goal, what I am going to the prefab manufacturers with today, what I am talking about. Where the business could go, where there are points of great growth and where we should be."
Company Unitfab has been designing and manufacturing low-rise modular houses in its own workshop since 2019. During this time, the business has gone from two exhibition buildings to the realization of hotel complexes and cottages in different parts of the country. The company has experience in manufacturing "turnkey" houses of various typologies, one or more floors. They are ordered as individual housing, used for hotel business, rental start-ups or as guest houses for outdoor recreation.
The Unitfab model range can be divided into several categories: cottages for large families with an area of 60-170 m², small houses of 30-60 m², profitable real estate of 15-40 m² for developers and the "House" series, which was developed after the start of the full-scale war for the reconstruction of Ukraine . There is also a series of growing modular houses "Flathouse", it is suitable for small families who plan to add and complete additional rooms in the future (such houses can be increased from 50 to 140 m² on the first floor or add a second).
Founder and CEO of the company Volodymyr Melnichuk and account manager Mykola Ponochevnyi they say: in construction technologies and aesthetics, they mainly focus on the Scandinavian practice of working with wood, for installation and sealing they use the author's work of Unitfab, fastenings and membranes, which are used by leading European factories of modular housing. Houses are made on a wooden power frame, can have different types of facades using combinations of wood, metal, fiber cement panels and variable interior decoration.
Currently, the main tasks of the team are to help residents of communities who have lost their homes and to develop complexes for the rehabilitation of military personnel.
As early as April 2022, the company offered its own facilities for housing restoration in all public channels. In cooperation with a local NGO and foreign donors, Unitfab helps the Veliky Dymer community, where during the Russian occupation, about a hundred private houses were destroyed and another 176 were damaged.
According to Mykola Ponochovnyi, the company's capabilities allow organizing a parallel production line. For example, ten or more houses with an area of 40 m² can be produced in a month. Speed depends on batch size and decoration options.
People already live in the first two houses from Unitfab in Velika Dymerka. Production with the full volume of external and internal work lasted a month. "We received really good feedback, the public association is currently communicating with donors regarding the next batch of houses. The need for housing is great, hundreds will be needed, — says Mykola. — We hope that not only in the mentioned settlement, but also in the country in general, the process of providing people with housing will happen faster, so that people are not forced to wait for months in rented housing, with relatives, or several families in one house, like many of our acquaintances. Modular technologies make it possible to get housing in a month and start adjusting your life."
Mykola Ponochovny answers questions about the reconstruction of Ukrainian cities using the potential of prefab factories as follows:
"After the full-scale invasion, we are seeing a noticeable increase in companies in various regions. These new capacities also create jobs — this is important, many companies employ displaced persons who have lost not only their housing, but also their jobs. We hope for a speedy victory and rapid recovery of the affected cities."
Up to this point, we talked about modular and low-rise buildings. Experience of a Ukrainian developer Royal House is particularly interesting because it will be about multi-story prefab construction.
Royal House is a full-cycle group of companies, founded in 2004, with a patent for the original technology of wall modules and its own production and construction capacities. The company's business card is the metropolitan residential complexes "British Quarter" and "New England" (the residential complex received an award for energy efficiency as part of the "Person of the Year" program). Already during the full-scale war at the end of 2022, Royal House was awarded the IBUILD-2022 Developer of the Year Award.
"When we started, no one in Ukraine produced wall modules that were immediately insulated, with decoration and installed double-glazed windows", — Oleksiy Bilokon
"Modern civil construction often combines classical and prefabricated technologies. We confidently count ourselves among the prefab companies, because we manufacture the internal and external wall modules entirely in-house." — says the commercial director of the company Oleksiy Bilokon.
The idea of the invention was born in 2012, when the company was changing the vector of activity from the construction of private individual cottages to multi-apartment residential projects. "We faced the fact that the contemporary technologies used in construction could not provide the required quality of facade finishing, jointing of seams, installation of windows, etc. — explains Oleksiy Bilokon. — Therefore, a decision was made to move most of the construction process indoors and to organize high-tech assembly line production. In Ukraine at that time, no one produced wall modules that would be immediately insulated, with decoration and installed double-glazed windows. We own a patent for this technology."
Production started with small batches and from 2012 to 2023 expanded to 140 m² of finished housing per year. Bilokon says: about 25 wall modules are manufactured in the workshops per day shift, which can be compared with the area of four one-room apartments. The company's capabilities allow it to supply products to 2-3 large construction sites at the same time, i.e. it is able to ensure the simultaneous construction of several projects.
The production technology of ready-made wall modules of Royal House is certified according to European CE standards, which facilitates interaction with foreign customers.
"Today we have up to ten projects in Austria and Slovakia, both already implemented and those that are at the stage of completion or construction. However, to a greater extent, we focus on the high-quality development of residential complexes in Ukraine, — notes Oleksiy Bilokon. — We understand the challenges of war and the great lack of quality housing, open to negotiations and cooperation with European colleagues and organizations. We hope that once a full-scale program of renovation of the devastated areas begins, our technology will be most useful in this process."
In April 2022, Royal House submitted an application to use its own prefab technology in a program to restore destroyed housing. Currently, the developer is participating in the tender of the European grant fund for the construction of residential buildings in ten cities of Ukraine.
The prospect of prefab reconstruction
When planning the rehabilitation of damaged infrastructure and the reconstruction of housing, the parties (government, local communities, donors and industry experts involved in the decision-making process) should objectively assess the potential of producers and enterprises already present in the market and new players — newly established or foreign companies. What they can and are willing to offer the country for recovery and on what terms of cooperation.
Explicating this problem to Ukrainian prefab, it is important to remember: damaged Ukrainian cities will need thousands of new high-rise buildings. Not all needs can be met with low-rise or manor buildings. Speed in this context is critically important, theoretically it could be provided by large-panel and block construction of a new model.
PRAGMATIKA's research, even if it was cursory, shows that a large share of companies is focused on the construction of high-quality, but small individual houses. To what extent are Ukrainian productions able to provide high-rise reconstruction using prefabricated reinforced concrete or more modern block and panel solutions?
Volodymyr Brunko, the head of the department of the Ukrainian Zonal Research and Design Institute for Civil Construction "KyivZNDIEP", notes: the domestic market of ZBK was radically larger, but over the years it lost its specific weight. The product range offered by manufacturers has decreased significantly, and this especially applies to large-panel solutions for an entire apartment or several apartments. According to the expert, the market is still destructuring.
Some enterprises with a 40–50-year history maintain their presence on the construction market until now, others appeared already in the years of independence. Speaking about the Kyiv region, we can mention the DBK-4 house-building plant (part of the DBK-Zhytlobud corporation), ZBK Brovarsky plant, ZBK Boguslavsky plant (trademarks "Bohuslavski betony", "Formico Prefab"). There are enterprises that manufacture reinforced concrete structures in almost every region, their activity, technological base and economy are different.
BC "Budova" — a group of companies with a closed cycle of implementation of development projects, known in Odessa and in the south of the country. A developer with 30 years of experience has been implementing frame construction projects for three years. At the "Budovy" workshops, wall modules made of fiberglass concrete (GRC), prefabricated reinforced concrete ventilation blocks, slabs of balconies and ceilings, etc. are currently being manufactured. A new technological line for the production of prefabs for Well-Being ConTech residential buildings is in the process of assembly. The company actively broadcasts its interest in scaling its own capacities and participating in the reconstruction of the country.
We have already mentioned the experience of the Royal House developer. The company has a modern industrial complex and well-developed logistics. Not only wall modules, but also window systems, architectural and decorative elements are manufactured in production shops.
Resuscitation of the entire industry of Ukrainian home-building plants is a complex idea. Volodymyr Brunko names physical and moral wear and tear as the main reasons. By physical, we mean the respectable age of many technological lines, not all of them are capable of providing the conditions, quality and volumes of production that would meet modern requirements. Moral wear and tear — this is an outdated product typification. Each Soviet house-building plant had a planning nomenclature, mostly irrelevant for today.
"The housing typology was quite limited in terms of planning possibilities and comfort. It does not meet modern principles of energy saving, needs and tastes of the consumer and is completely outdated." — states Volodymyr Brunko.
Of course, new enterprises can be created, modernization of the industry is possible, but for this you need to understand the demand, which has now switched to individual project solutions. Capital investments in new production without guarantee of sales of products for business — this is a huge risk.
Volodymyr Brunko: "Not taking into account the choice of users and risks, you can create a "reservation" that will later be empty"
Brunko notes: the current situation is caused not by technical barriers or someone's lobby, but by objective assessments of market players — regarding expected sales volumes, sales reliability and consumer behavior. The ongoing war complicates these calculations. For reconstruction, it is important to forecast not only the development of events at the front, but also demographic factors and people's consumer behavior. How many people from those who have currently left will return home, and how many will change their region of residence. Simple but complex predictions: the number of people who will live on a certain street, the number of cars that will drive over a new bridge. Children who will study in the newly built school.
"Regarding the development of territories, we face very difficult issues of risk assessment — and determining who will pay for those risks." — notes Volodymyr Brunko. Currently, the expert often participates in the discussion of options for the construction of new housing in communities. He tells PRAGMATIKA: despite the fact that the local authorities are sincerely trying to regulate aspects of the reconstruction within the framework of the OTG, it is still not completely clear who will be the owner, the customer, the balance keeper of the new objects.
"So far, a legal mechanism has not been developed, guarantees that the built object will be filled. The problem starts with the fact that, say, a person used to live in a certain place, and in 90% of situations they will be offered another. This immediately violates the guarantee that she will accept this option long-term. Persons who have lost their homes are not customers: they do not have physical funds, they expect certain compensations. There is a gap between the customer and the user."
"The probability that the object will be built and consumers will be satisfied with it can be increased if there is a confirmation of people's choice at the project stage (for example, through a certain contribution, application, etc.), — continues Volodymyr Brunko. — Otherwise, we may have houses that meet the aesthetic and technical and economic preferences of the mayor, donors or architects, but it is not a fact that the residents will like them. Different generations, women with children, men, etc."
"Every designer faces this in real life, — the expert shares. — This, in particular, is the problem of cottage construction. The circle of desires of each potential owner of a manor house is an order of magnitude larger than that of an apartment owner. Specialists with experience, who are now involved in the creation of mechanisms for reconstruction, mostly understand this problem.
The topic is big, but not new for our country. Work on digitalization of data, development of financial models for compensation of destroyed housing — all these files were already lying on the desks of specialists of the Ministry of Reintegration and previous departments after the deployment of armed Russian aggression against Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea in 2014. The authorities were searching for a single centralized mechanism. For which of the then variants is it possible to update today or which new variants will be approved? Most likely, the question is open.
But no matter how objectively difficult it may be to answer it, the country must do it.
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.