2019 – The year offsite becomes mainstream

21 December 2018
Offsite construction has been a niche construction option in the UK since the 1940s, but for cultural and historical reasons it has largely remained just that. However, a perfect storm of Brexit uncertainty, skills shortage, productivity gaps and Britain’s worst housing shortage since the 1930s are all joining forces to propel offsite construction into the mainstream.
Open Academy, Norwich

Open Academy, Norwich


Ramboll. Gavin White. Image courtesy of Paulina Sobczak Photography

Gavin White

T: +44 7584 632 555
Oliver Neve. Ramboll

Oliver Neve

Principal Engineer
T: +44 7870 808 407
Mark Pniewski. Ramboll

Mark Pniewski

Director, Special Services, Buildings
T: +44 7436 274 650

Any doubts that the UK construction industry is currently functioning well, let alone in a sustainable way, are heightened by the gross uncertainty over the availability of the future workforce due to the UK’s impending exit from the European Union. 

Broken housing market

Migrant labour currently accounts for half of the London workforce in the construction industry  and predictions of a 20-25% decline in the UK’s labour force over the next decade  makes for uneasy reading as Brexit swiftly approaches.  The UK’s ageing workforce will be under increasing pressure to produce the number of houses the UK needs.  The housing crisis will inevitably deepen as government targets have increased to 300,000 new homes a year just to meet current housing demands.

It has been two years since the stark prognosis of the Farmer Review, Modernise or Die, which warned the industry of the need to embrace Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) to meet demand.

Since then we’ve seen two government inquiries: The Independent Review of Build Out by the Rt Hon Sir Oliver Letwin MP, and the House of Lords Science & Technology Select Committee report, Offsite Manufacture for Construction: Building for Change.

Letwin focused on planning, highlighting that on large-scale developments the median build-out period, from planning consent to last completed home, was a whopping 15.5 years! At this rate, how can the scale of delivery across all tenures be enough to get close to 300,000 homes a year?

Despite this, we haven’t witnessed a significant increase in the uptake in offsite construction. No other industry has been so resistant to technological change with companies such as Boeing, Hewlett-Packard and Ford utilising offsite construction processes with undeniable success. What is stopping the construction industry moving forward? Whether it’s down to an aversion to the cheap & cheerful pre-fabs of post war Britain, the innate conservatism of the construction industry, or the availability of cheap overseas labour, the industry will now have to change.

Harnessing digital to get further, faster

The technological revolution has seen every industry and sector find new opportunities and develop more efficient ways of doing things. With productivity a key industry issue, rapid advances in digital design and the ability to fully utilise data to revolutionise the process of design, engineering and construction. 

The replicable nature of modular structures lends itself to digital design techniques and Ramboll is continually developing design tools that leverage this. Indeed, the digital culture is rapidly spreading across the company. Combined with our offsite construction expertise it’s transforming productivity and delivering high quality solutions in record time.

We are now able to model and analyse multiple design options faster and earlier in the process, collecting the data and presenting the optimum solution based on any combination of key criteria. Clients join us on the design journey and explore multiple options in real time. They make informed value decisions and evaluate the robustness of the proposal in concept, price and programme. taking their projects further, faster. 

Read more on Ramboll’s suite of digital design tools here.

Offsite: Quantifying the Benefits

There is a range of offsite and onsite techniques available to suit every project and it’s vital that all options are considered early in the design process. To allow developers and investors to make informed decisions on the most suitable construction technique, Ramboll's ‘Offsite Review’ tool demonstrates the savings brought by various modern offsite construction techniques, with insight gained by going through planning cycles multiple times with different systems. And if traditional onsite construction is the right solution, that’s what we’ll recommend.

Suitable for company and/or project reviews you can gain useful insights into harnessing more value from offsite construction.

Find out how Offsite Ready you are here.

Future is offsite

Using our digital tools we’re now able to consider multiple offsite and traditional construction techniques, such as precast concrete, modular steel, cross-laminated timber (CLT) on a site by site basis, weighing up costs, timescales and environmental impacts at project outset.

Depending on the developer needs and the site topography, each offsite technique brings something different to the table. But they all share common characteristics. By shifting construction away from the site to purpose-built factories they speed up the construction process, reduce the numbers of skilled staff required on site, reduce the environmental footprint of the construction site, increase site safety and boost the productivity of the project. With skilled construction workers in short supply, offsite provides a means by which large scale housing projects can be delivered affordably.


Related information and projects

Ramboll. Dalston Works. Image: Daniel Shearing.

Cross Laminated Timber

Ramboll is the UK’s leading CLT (cross laminated timber) designer with extensive experience in concept design, detailed design and connections design. We have worked with CLT for over 15 years and designed some of the biggest and tallest CLT buildings in the country.

Dalston Works completed

Dalston Works

Dalston Works (previously known as Dalston Lane) is the largest Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) project globally, using more timber than any other scheme in the world by volume.

Blackdale Residences, Unviersity of East Anglia

Blackdale Residences, University of East Anglia

The new 514 unit student residential accommodation buildings utilised digital tools and offsite construction to enable a breathtakingly fast paced programme, completing the construction in just 62 weeks.

Merano Residences - a 28 storey, high end, mixed use development boasting panoramic views of Westminster and the City of London.

Merano Residences

Merano Residences is a 28 storey, high end, mixed use development boasting panoramic views of Westminster and the City of London.

Image - Paulina Sobzcat

CitizenM Hotel, Tower Hill

Tower Hill is a flagship location for CitizenM’s London offer, comprising a 370 bedroom hotel offering “affordable luxury” above Tower Hill underground station, in the setting of a UNESCO World Heritage site.


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London SE1 8NW
United Kingdom
Tel:+44 20 7631 5291
Fax:+44 845 299 1610

Mail: london@ramboll.co.uk

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Ramboll UK Limited. Registered in England & Wales. Company registration no. 03659970. Registered office: 240 Blackfriars Road, London SE1 8NW

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