Panelised construction systems spell the future of MMC

Georgina Bignold, director at Proctor & Matthews Architects, explains how panelised construction systems are bringing new levels of design versatility to MMC housing, taking the industry to the next level

The pressing challenge facing the industry today is how to deliver characterful developments while utilising modern methods of construction (MMC) to help meet housing demand. And it is only through exemplar projects, which demonstrate how MMC can be used in different ways to deliver bold and beautiful neighbourhoods that respond to context and place, that we can really rise to this challenge and integrate MMC into the future of construction – on projects of all scales.

Since full volumetric construction was defined as Category 1 MMC by the MHCLG Joint Industry Working Group in 2019, it has been the industry's go-to method. But then, and even more so now, there is a much wider variety of modular systems available which should be used alongside volumetric systems to broaden the scope and push the potential of MMC.


The advantages of full volumetric or modular construction are well documented, with factory manufactured quality control and significantly less site defects being among the most attractive. The rapid assembly of modules on site also leads to significantly reduced construction programmes and with it reduced preliminary costs. It does come with limitations, in terms of required economies of scale and design flexibility. Also, as volumetric systems remain relatively standardised in terms of dimensions and where openings can be cut, it can also be hard to address gables and follow the contours of a site, for example.

This is particularly challenging on constrained urban sites. The solution can be found in a hybrid construction approach; with bespoke elements applied to the finished built modules but this comes with a cost disadvantage over other forms of construction.


Where projects are not viable for full volumetric, an alternative that is often used is panelised MMC – or 2D Primary Structural Systems – where flat panels of varying materials are used for floor, wall and roof structures. This approach is often taken as part of a hybrid approach, combining modules for M&E systems, frames and prefabricated panelised construction forms and pods for smaller rooms like WCs. Aside from resolving viability issues on smaller projects, panelised systems have much to offer in their own right – in particular where context and townscape require a bespoke or complex design response.


At Proctor & Matthews, we have worked on some of the most distinctive large-scale prefabricated housing projects in the UK. In our experience, the use of panelised construction systems and the design versatility they offer are helping MMC to find its way into more UK placemaking projects, even within sites of 200 homes or less.

Even back in 2004, when we worked as the architects on Phase 2 of Greenwich Millennium Village, we used an early example of the 2D structural light gauge steel frame system, alongside a component-driven approach for cladding panels and balconies. In a similar method to timber framed housing techniques, rolled steel members were fabricated into frames in an onsite factory to build both the internal and external walls.

The panellised system allowed us to develop a variety of housing types that responded to the townscape-driven Greenwich Masterplan. Component assembly reduced the duration of works onsite but also offered a degree of flexibility that allowed the design team to maximise both use of space and the sales potential of the village.

By the time we were looking at how best to construct Latheram House, a residential development in Cheltenham, in 2018, light gauge steel frame systems were well established within the construction

industry. The unusual nature of the tight infill site meant that the apartments could not be delivered via volumetric MMC and the lack of space to store materials ruled out traditional construction

methods. The Sigmat panelised system was selected for speed of delivery but also because it could deliver the architectural intent as set out in the planning approval; a later living scheme that echoed

the character of this unique conservation area.

We have just submitted a planning application for Sunderland's Riverside quarter, Vaux, a neighbourhood designed around energy and carbon reduction, to help Sunderland City Council move towards a sustainable future.

The development features two different panelised structural framing systems as part of the overall MMC approach. The taller apartment blocks will be constructed using a light gauge steel frame with a high recycled content, while the low-scale family houses will be constructed from Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs). Together, the approaches will meet stringent thermal and carbon targets, as well as minimise site waste and maximise construction speed. Both systems will also allow greater quality control over production and cost, while crucially retaining a high level of design flexibility and variety.

We hope projects like this can raise the bar on what can be achieved with MMC, not just in terms of their sustainability credentials but also in terms of their ability to deliver buildings and neighbourhoods with a real sense of identity and place, through nuanced architectural language and form.

We're excited to see how panelised and hybrid forms of MMC can fit into a much more comprehensive use of MMC to deliver much-needed housing up and down the country, in ever-more interesting and innovative ways.

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