Does offsite manufacture lead to a boring, standardised design? Absolutely not.

It’s a mistaken perception. As engineers, we have the skills to approach a project using offsite methods and deliver great design. It’s just a matter of adapting to a different mindset.

The big challenge for designers is approaching the project early enough. That way, we can identify opportunities for offsite and really embed them throughout the design process. If you come in too late, you end up retrofitting and unpicking other ideas. This is why we now carry out Offsite Readiness Assessments for clients at the feasibility stage.

“Embracing offsite can lead to better design”

There are limitations, but much less than you might expect. Whole modular buildings make up a relatively small proportion of offsite, and a lot of what we design can be standardized very easily – either by developing components or by creating larger modules that can be fitted together on site. We’re not trying to design regular-looking buildings. Instead, we’re looking for opportunities to standardize and create efficiencies through the use of automotive and digital technology. There’s really no reason why these buildings shouldn’t still look interesting.

Embracing offsite can lead to better design. Once you’ve taken the more mundane aspects out of the design and automated them, you can concentrate on adding great creativity to the rest of the system. That’s far better than spending all your time on the nuts and bolts.

Engineers are often at their most creative when working with a set of controls. We’ve worked extensively with Laing O’Rourke’s prefabricated concrete system. Because we know it so well, we know instinctively where to start from and how to innovate in order to tune it for each particular project.

Most projects will bring in offsite systems that are designed by others. At WSP, however, we can also design the systems ourselves from start to finish. We’ve just finished a flexible ‘chassis’ for the Berkeley Group that can deliver everything from a three-storey townhouse to a 20-storey apartment building. It’s a structural system with all the building services and floor finishes ready fitted that can be configured by the architect to suit their design.

The industry is now at a tipping point. More and more clients are looking at the potential of designing for offsite manufacturing at the feasibility stage. Everyone in the construction process needs to ask themselves if they’re really ready to truly embrace offsite. Those who don’t will soon be left behind.

Interested in talking to us about using offsite in your next project?