Today’s architects are facing more challenges than ever before when dealing with off-site construction.

Most of them are trapped in the “architectural work” mode and realize they are gradually losing control of projects. The article What Kind of Architects Are Needed in a Modern Construction Industry? has clarified the challenges in off-site construction for architects and proposed a “building products” mode as an alternative approach to alleviate this. Let’s take a look at a real-life case to make that building products mode come true.

Southeast University was conducting research, practices and education on building products mode in off-site construction based on the real-life buildings in recent years. “Dream House” is a demonstration project led by Southeast University adopting DfMA (design for manufacturing and assembly) principles and cooperative architecture design in this mode.

DfMA is used as the basis for concurrent engineering studies to provide guidance to the design team in simplifying the product structure, to reduce manufacturing and assembly costs, and to quantify improvements. In the construction industry, it is not only the key technology to promote concurrent engineering in lean construction during the whole building life cycle, but also an effective approach to realising the integration of design into construction.

So how can we adopt DfMA principles effectively and make building products mode come true? Dream House seems to provide a paradigm. This project, located in Jiangsu Green Building Expo in Changzhou, China, was built for the exhibition of green building technologies.

The building was about 420 square metres and adopted off-site construction techniques. It contained 12 standard units (three metres by six metres by three metres and formed a quadrangle-courtyard type of building type following a specific layout plan. Steel was chosen as a structural material and the envelope was composed of prefabricated aluminum panels. All the prefabricated components of the building were connected with bolts that were tightened with a simple wrench.

The building was treated as an industrial product and the builders’ design objectives were achieved through the implementation of feasible and rational steps from the drawing stage to the end product. In the early design stage, Southeast University adopted a cooperative design mode and cooperated with related companies to integrate design requirements, structural requirements, performance requirements, and fireproofing requirements into the manufacturability, assemblability and buildability of the building.

Meanwhile, the whole building was divided into four parts: the structure, the building envelope, the interior building envelope and building services. This was to ensure clear responsibilities and roles for participating companies. Every company was tasked with completing their own part from the drawing stage to the end product stage.

This collaborative mode between the design team and the manufacturers streamlined the whole process from drawing to real-life building. Green energy-saving technologies were also adopted and integrated into the building.

The methods used ensured systemic, high quality and maintainable application of green technologies in the design and construction processes.