Will Tomorrow’s Office Be Built… In a Factory?

It’s no secret that prefabricated homes are “a thing,” having grown to a $10 billion industry in the last five years. By manufacturing big chunks of the framing and construction inside a factory, you can dramatically cut environmental waste and energy use, diminish construction time, and cut the cost of an overall structure by nearly half.

So it’s no wonder that prefab manufacturing is coming to the commercial world. And your office may be next.

Companies like Project Frog, Broad Sustainable Building, Prescient, Hickory Group, and FullStack Modular are churning out structures for hotels, retail stores, residential towers, and office complexes that dramatically cut the time and cost it takes to build. Even huge skyscrapers are being built inside factories: Australia’s tallest pre-fab building stands at 44 stories tall in Melbourne.

More industry execs promise that prefab skyscrapers will be the norm, with the prefabrication market perhaps growing six or seven times more than the overall construction market. The architecturally ambitious 32-story modular skyscraper in Brooklyn aside, Roger Krulak, CEO of Full Stack Modular LLC, says the company’s “sweet spot” for modular in an urban environment will be 10-to-18-stories and 80,000-to-120,000-square-feet.

So what does it mean for office-dwellers who could inhabit these factory-made buildings?

Well, because construction takes place off-site, you’ll deal with fewer construction headaches — noise, traffic, dust, and those massive trash bins that take up prime parking. It also means you’ll be sitting in an office that will be more environmentally efficient. The spaces themselves are also more sustainable, typically made of durable materials that should allow for longevity — from construction to reconfiguration.

Then there’s speed. Modular construction increases productivity when there’s a limited supply of skilled laborers in each market. That means a building stays on schedule. That’s key at a time when vacancy rates drop to 5.5% in San Francisco and as low as 1.1% in Berlin.

Also, for obvious reasons, building portions of a structure inside a controlled indoor environment can eliminate labor shortages, accidents, and weather delays.

But even life inside a prefab office is different. Flexibility is key, and modular architecture offers layouts workspaces that can change on a dime. Instead of relying on conventional steel stud and drywall office construction, prefab walls can be installed faster and more efficiently. The modular wall panels can be switched out to accommodate new technology or interior design.

Welcome to the Office Lego of the future.