Skip to content

Why Modular? Lessons Learned Through Modular Design

About the Author: Gary Badge is a graduate from the University of Florida. He’s been with FK Architecture (A Fugleberg Koch Company) for 17 years and his projects range from hospitality, multi-family, mixed-use, F&B, and renovations. Gary’s roles as Managing Member include business development, operations, client relations, project management, and construction administration.

Over the course of several months, we have been on an exploratory journey discovering the many details of a modular construction delivery system. FK Architecture was founded on core principles that emphasize efficiency and economy of scale. Our designs are initiated through the use of an 8”grid which was found to be a rational increment of building construction. Our focus has been to translate that design language into a modular deliverable for our clients. We have found many similarities in what our firm was founded on and how a modular building is designed and assembled.

The Modular Building Institute has assisted our progress by providing a vast network of design professionals, builders and manufacturers who share similar values when it comes to flexibility and variety in building. Our deep dive into modular immediately informed us there are specific reasons why one would consider executing a project with modular construction. Curiously our preconceived understanding of this market was not all that it seemed to be.


Typical garden-style multifamily on-site building plan before adjustments for off-site fabrication.

FK Architecture is a firm with strong roots in the multi-family market. We have provided tens of thousands of units for our clients since our inception in 1963. We pride ourselves in providing smart design where form follows function. Considering the end user is critical to the success of the project. By creating efficiencies in our design process, we are able to maximize the projects impact without minimizing the quality. Specifically, we consider the use, cost and logistics of every project. Our clients value this approach which speaks to our success. Modular construction also considers what we employ as design sensibilities which are why we are promoting it.

It is evident our environment is changing and the way in which society inhabits it. Therefore we present modular building design and construction as a viable option for our clients. The first questions we are asked 9 out of 10 times, “How much does it cost? Is it cheaper?” Despite the trust and confidence our clients have in us, like any change, the change in the design approach makes them hesitant to engage. It took several meetings over time, but we have discovered the best approach is to first educate your audience and ask each client, “Why modular?”

The multi-family market is ideal for modular construction. The units themselves are often repetitious as well as the vertical and horizontal connections necessary to create the overall building. Early in the design process, we demonstrate how the conventional built unit is translated to a modular design. The transformation is minimal. The units remain inviting and thoughtfully laid out. Once the client sees the low impact to the design, they become interested in what the rest of the process has to offer.

It is at this juncture we revert back to the first question, “Why Modular?” Since cost is at the top of most developers list, it is fair to immediately inform them the modular construction system is not necessarily cheaper. However, the reason a client may want to consider a modular approach is going to market faster. This realization could mean financial gains to a client thus offsetting the first costs of the project.


Related Listening:
Integrating Sustainable Practices into Modular Design w/ FK Architecture

In this episode of Inside Modular, Gary Badge and Manny Lamarche of FK Architecture return to discuss FK's recent inclusion of modular design and the evolution of their design processes.

Gary and Manny also highlight their efforts to bring sustainable design elements into FK's modular construction projects and talk about the importance of sustainability both inside and outside the construction industry.

Listen to more podcasts here.

Consider building materials

Many of our clients execute multi-family projects using wood framing. When designing a modular building, walls, floors and ceilings are duplicated. Each unit is designed as a module which stacks onto the unit preceding it. This means the amount of material to construct a 3-story apartment building for instance has doubled in many ways. With escalating costs for wood framing this understanding could kill the idea to continue with the modular design. Therefore knowing what your client values will allow the design to progress further. Although, materials double, the time in which it takes to assemble the unit is reduced. This is one reason the client can go to market faster.

Timing is everything

Modular construction relies heavily on timing. A typical project is designed, documented, permitted and then built. Area development also needs to occur and is often the Achilles heel in the process of building the project. Civil engineering follows a different path which is not always parallel to the development of the design and documentation. Often the site permit must be received prior to issuing the building permit. Depending on the circumstances, this could delay the project weeks, possibly months. A modular project is permitted at the state level. For design professionals and our clients, this is an advantage. Although the design phase timeline remains the same as for a conventionally designed building, the permitting phase does not.

Once the documents are submitted to the state, the review duration is streamlined and permits to start building the modular units in the factory can be issued in as little as weeks. This means, while the civil engineering is tracking through the same typical process as any project would, the modular units can begin construction. They are not regulated the same as a conventional build. Once the site permit is received and site work executed, the modules are ready to be delivered and set in place on site. The project goes vertical and takes shape in a matter of weeks. This accelerates the entire project timeline. We found projects of similar size and scale that took 14 months to build conventionally could take 8 months to complete. Therefore, the project is occupied faster.

Additional advantages

Additional advantages to modular construction include, improved sound attenuation, structural stability, quality control, build time, less environmental impacts in terms of emissions & land disruption, and building efficiency. It is our job to demonstrate how these advantages can overcome the initial challenge of a client considering a modular project to be a cost savings solution. Cost will always be a factor, but understanding the detailed advantages of this methodology is imperative to its success. Furthermore, having the knowledge of what makes the modular deliverable so appealing opens the possibilities of where a project can be realized. Challenging sites with limited space as well as the repurposing of distressed properties all lay way to the modular advantage.

FK Architecture continues to grow this resource in our organization. We feel its merits speak to our traditions and enable us to be a proactive advocate for building better projects. As we continue to educate ourselves, we will push the envelope of what the modular method of building can provide. Presenting the information clearly and concisely and demonstrating the advantages will be key to growing this fascinating industry. It is our mission as design professionals to share knowledge and guide the built environment to more sustainable solutions, eventually overcoming the misconceptions of “Why Modular?”

More from Modular Advantage

Repetition, Communication, and Coordination: A QSR Case Study

This modular QSR project seemed like any another modular building on the surface. Inside, it was anything but. The rhythm, the desire to iterate and repeat, and the constant communication between all parties made it stand out.

Modular Architecture: Thinking Outside of the Box with Sara.Ann Logan

At a time when modular buildings were still seen as less than by many in the architecture and construction world, Sara.Ann Logan took the plunge and partnered to launch a design-build firm that designed, built, and constructed modular high-end single-family homes. But even though she could see the value of this kind of construction, it wasn’t universally accepted.

Colorado Developer ‘Attacks’ Attainable Housing Crisis

City, county, and state government bodies are reaching out to Fading West Development, a modular manufacturer and developer in Buena Vista, CO, to learn more about how they are using modular construction to solve the affordable housing crisis in Colorado. Governments are eager to learn how they’ve made modular development successful and profitable while meeting the growing need for affordable housing.

CES Group’s Stuart Cameron Will Convince You the Moon Is Achievable with Modularized MEP

While most people think of construction as a gradually layered process, MEP assemblies—such as the modular ones—tend to provide all-in-one installs, like a car factory. A modular MEP product helps developers, architects, and fellow modular manufacturers reach their goals through early integration and planning. MEP assemblies address all the unseen things like electrical, heating, and plumbing when looking at a finalized building. The very nature of MEP assemblies are crucial to any initial prospectus.

Automation: The Future for Offsite Modular Construction

Offsite modular construction lags far behind other industries in embracing and adopting automation. Some people believe it will decrease jobs. Others feel they’ve done okay without it, so why change? In reality, conventional construction methods simply cannot keep up. Cooper Lane of Brave Control Solutions points to the labor shortage and the housing crisis that’s rampant in Canada, the U.S., and globally.

Seizing the Modular Construction Opportunity

The CSA Public Policy Centre’s new report, Seizing the Modular Construction Opportunity, highlights how innovative modular methods can help to bring various building forms—from single unit housing to complex high-rises—online more quickly. Owing to efficient manufacturing practices and controlled factory environments, modular can achieve completion rates that are 25% to 50% faster than conventional construction approaches.

Structural versus Cyclical: What Matters More?

A new set of considerations have induced leaders of major global manufacturing enterprises to reconsider their site selection decisions. Among these are: 1) a desire for simpler logistics emphasizing shorter transit distances and times; 2) a need to better protect intellectual property; 3) more reliable court systems; 4) incentives offered by the USMCA, America’s trade deal with Canada and Mexico; and 5) a recent set of subsidies offered under packages like the Chips and Science Act and the Inflation Reduction Act.

How Air Caster Technology Has Helped Improve Modular Building Manufacturing

Air casters mean flexibility, not just in terms of movement but also in terms of change. For example, one structure might be 56-feet-long and another 76-feet-long. Air casters allow manufacturers to easily accommodate a variety of shapes and sizes of boxes and then make changes on the fly.

The Building Industry Needs a Moonshot Speech

In his “Moonshot” speech in 1962, President Kennedy challenged his fellow citizens to land a man on the moon and bring him safely back to earth before 1970. He showed leadership, reimagining human potential and progress, and this famous speech has been an inspiration for many to get things done. Likewise, a “Home-shot” speech that challenges citizens to remove lengthy procedures and “carefully” remove some of the mountain of red tape required for permitting before 2030 would certainly make a huge difference.

How Issa Nesheiwat Conquered the Great Manufacturer/Design Divide

Born in Jordan forty years ago, Nesheiwat is something of an outsider to the modular housing world. His entrepreneurial spirit led him from a childhood growing up in Yonkers, New York, to the more provincial location of Poughkeepsie where he delved into many unique business ventures. Not one to shy away from a challenge, he took on projects that seemed impossible, often in the housing sector. His innate sense of the fundamentals in finance, corporate branding, and business expansion have led him to where he is today.