Case study: building schools in record time with standardised steel frames

Rapid school building design with Seismic project. Credit: Seismic Consortium.

Rapid school building design with Seismic project. Credit: Seismic Consortium.

Two manufacturers developed standardised steel frames and a new digital design tool, cutting production costs and enabling new schools to be designed in minutes.

The need to reduce capital costs and speed up construction projects is increasing interest in pre-constructed building modules manufactured off-site. The Department for Education is one of the leaders driving this approach, encouraging offsite manufacture of schools through its procurement policies.

A modular building approach means that manufacturers can use a single standard design layout with potential for reducing costs in the supply chain, but the sector needs to agree on the design rules and specifications.

Standardising the steel framework

Manufacturers The Elliot Group and The McAvoy Group both used similar but incompatible designs for the steel framework used as the superstructure for buildings such as schools.

In the SEISMIC project they worked with Bryden Wood to select a standardised frame grid size, based on recommended classroom sizes and layouts of key spaces in schools such as sports halls and science labs.

The design was re-engineered to minimise use of steel and reduce steps in the fabrication process. Steel components were put together using manufactured connectors that were easy and quick to install, and meant the components could be delivered to site in an efficiently packed container.

Reducing construction time, costs and emissions

The redesigned steel frame and component assembly made it possible to reduce build time by 52%, and reduced weight, minimising cost and emissions.

The improved supply chain processes will dramatically reduce emissions by 25% from the transport and steel associated with the build. The components and engineered connectors make future upgrades easier, and also opens up possibilities for end of life disassembly and reuse of the steel.

Digital tool designs schools in minutes

Using standardised components meant the overall design could be automated using algorithms that followed the design rules for school buildings.

The project developed an easy to use digital tool for designing school structures that was simple enough for schoolchildren to use, bringing the design process down from weeks to minutes.

Last updated: 19 January 2021

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