Something is changing in the state of British construction. Every day we glimpse headlines about some new snag in the supply chain, a crucial skills shortage or the built environment's role in the environmental crisis. In moments like these, we often question the status quo: what have we been doing until now? Why has it stopped working - and how can we change this?
From the outside, construction has the appearance of an industry frozen in time. Indeed, ancient illustrations depict familiar scenes of builders walking around with hammers and timber.
Yet what's changed is the climate in which we build; the situation facing the industry today is unlike anything we've seen before. It stems not from any one incident but is the result of decades of mounting problems that have left our industry facing a perfect storm. To begin, there's a shortage of available housing, of skilled labour and construction materials, which leads to rising costs. Fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has left an unpredictable financial climate, while the cladding crisis has taken its toll on developers and insurers. Add to this the present-day expectations for homes to be sustainable, made efficiently, produce zero waste or carbon, and be built in line with constantly increasing performance requirements. It has become clear that the old ways of building aren't working anymore, and the situation requires a tectonic shift.
So, one might ask: where's all the change taking place?
The answer won't be found on building sites but is hidden in the industrial estates scattered across Britain, where a quiet revolution is taking place. Step inside the factories of the new housebuilders, which have been popping up like mushrooms in recent years. Here, you'll find developers with ideas about industrialisation: using automation, robots, cultivating a data-led approach and producing in-house design systems. These gigantic new steel sheds are the product of decades of factory development experience, borrowed from the aerospace and automotive sectors. Humming with the latest new machines, a factory line of housing is a modern sight to behold. It's official, factories are (kind of) cool again.
There's been an influx of investment from both the private sector and from government, which sees industrialised house building as a silver bullet to many of its problems. There's an optimism in the air, too: a sense that we can do more while using less. Homes can be made better, more available, and more affordable.
As our industry changes, Matterlab is well-placed to build the systems it requires. Many of us originally trained as architects and engineers yet, as we grow, our work has seen us shift our focus from traditional development to the new landscape of industrialised construction.
Yet we retain our deep connections to the industry. We can see how the current climate has hit architecture firms hard, with many fighting to stay afloat financially. For many firms large and small, their survival relies on winning competitive bids for projects, which we know takes long hours and, ultimately, cost.
It is with this timing in mind that we've decided to release Unitize, our rapid site feasibility plugin for Revit, and make it free.