Modular architecture: «Prefabrication is not a limit; it is a discipline»

«Prefabrication is not a limit; it is a discipline». In conversation with Valentina Moretti of Italian based Studio More and Zoë and Jonathon Little of UK based, Koto design studio

Valentina Moretti, Studio More’s creative director 

Prefabrication and modular techniques invariably regarded as synergies of opposite sides. Independence and interrelation; standardization and customization; fixed module and flexible design. Valentina Moretti, Studio More’s creative director walks us through her journey into reshaping the architectural industry through the family’s business.

«The fifty-year-old company my father had built centered around prefabricated wood and concrete. As an architect, I wanted to try to innovate the business of prefabrication, as we had mainly targeted industrial sectors. By that I mean parkings, commercial malls, offices and factories. After extensive analyses, I discovered that prefabrication is not a rigid entity; prefabrication is flexible. You have the complete power to alter the structure since it come from a factory and skilled workers controlling the quality of the product». 

This form of architecture aims at discovering the most favorable answer to the informal architecture. Residential buildings in particular, in most cases portrayed as chaotic. A chaos that has been a result of informal builders’ actions for expansion that has emerged in such a format.

Cohesive buildings in harmony with its surrounding

With factory-controlled quality, reduced construction schedules and a smarter use of materials makes it considerably more sustainable than conventional techniques. «The main difference is in the production process; everything is built in the factory without having the need to operate on the construction site. Every component of the house creates details. These details are the key to quality. We focus on these details and test them in every construction site».

Lampoon, Studio More, Project of a design house in Lombardy
Studio More, Project of a design house in Lombardy

Prefabrication is not a limit, it is a discipline

Modular architecture poses a dynamic organism that grows and changes according to the requirements and projections of its clients. «We use natural materials in our designs; taking into consideration the materials chosen along with its colors in order to conceptualize how it will sit well in the landscape. Our houses are not in the greenery. They have a strong visual identity without trying to be an entity of another historical period. What we build is both actual contemporary and eternal».

The appreciation of Scandinavian design and aesthetic

With a few anomalies, today’s building practices encounter inefficiencies that are detrimental not only to clients’ time and money, but the well-being of the environment. These include material waste, labor costs, long construction hours and excessive levels of maintenance; modular construction plays a role in breaching the gap that conventional architecture has created and potentially has the power to overhaul the industry as a whole. UK based Koto design studio, co-founded by Johnathon Little, Zoë Little and Theo Dales, brings to life examples of a deep appreciation of Scandinavian design and aesthetic. Through their minimalistic approach, architecture from their standpoint is selfless; it is not self-serving but is about creating harmony between the design and human nature and complying with the virtue and tradition of each context. 

Zoë Little points out, «our projects are sustainability-led, which is something unusual in the prefabrication word. We create design driven products that bear the Scandinavian and Japanese aesthetic. Simplicity, functionality and minimalism. All qualities that we adopt in our designs and are not something you see in many prefabricated buildings. Modular has a generally bad reputation because it has so far not been innovative or particularly attractive». Johnathon Little goes further into saying, «When you think of modular architecture you think of containers or think of products not built to last and proposed as a quick fix. Our approach is that anything we build is built to last a lifetime».

Lampoon, Koto x Abodu, Ph Joe Fletcher
Koto x Abodu, Ph Joe Fletcher

The use of CLT (cross laminated timber) 

The three core design principles that Koto design studio abides by with any project they take on is being design-led, sustainable and to deliver via modular. With Koto it is not about the over-the-top constructions; it is about the relationship created by the building with the context and its contribution to society and nature. «We are modular designers and we partner with modular manufacturers globally to deliver our products». 

«That entails interviewing and meeting each other and having to go through a process with each and every manufacturer. It is a growing global network of manufacturers and each one of them has a different build, process or construction technique to deliver our buildings. We have some manufacturers that produce CLT (cross laminated timber) or produce in CLT. Highly sustainable because it embodies a vast amount of carbon. We have traditional timber frame manufacturers and then we have hybrid manufacturers. Some being more sustainable than others». 

High performance building – prefabrication

Shifting the focus from conventional constructions and recognizing modular and prefabricated structures as the main protagonist in the architectural industry is not an effortless process as it may seem. Johnathon Little confesses, «there is a mindset that prefabrication is cheap and unsustainable. Good prefabrication isn’t necessarily cheaper than traditional built but it is certainly more sustainable and time effective. There are misconceptions to fix as the industry grows or see it grow in the direction that we would like to see: design led and sustainable». 

«Currently the modular and prefabrication world is for the most part led by commercial gains and not necessarily by design. There is a lack of design input into the modular world. Until recently architects hadn’t been involved at all. You would have engineers, surveyors and business leaders who would run the design and manufacture and control the costs. Even then, to get that quality and hit those sustainability agendas; at the moment, there are not enough manufacturers to create enough competition to keep the prices down. So when you work in a niche market in the modular world it has a certain price tag and is something to consider». 

The future of architecture is not worth considering without the future of the construction industry as a whole. With the precision that Koto design studio presents, high performance buildings are the result; with much more time and price certainty building in a factory. Zoë Little concludes, «We have managed to create sculptural forms using modular techniques. That’s not something that has been done so much. We sell not just a product, we sell a lifestyle, taking time in nature and all of the things that have a key message with everything that’s happening and needing to actually have a connection with nature». 

More Studio

Italy based studio and is the soul of Moretti – Building on Human Values. Creatively directed by Valentina Moretti. More meaning, more service, more quality and more technology in order to transform traditional construction methods to modular and prefabricated structures for clients in a modern and sustainable manner.  

Koto Design Studio 

Design studio based in the UK co-founded by Johnathon Little, Zoë Little and Theo Dales. Known for their Scandinavian and Japanese inspired constructions that defy conventional architecture by adopting modular and prefabricated constructions. Koto design emphasizes simplicity and modernity creating harmony between the solids and voids; a distinct approach that is seen in their work.

Farah Hassan

The writer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article.