"Industrialization Is Emerging as the Only Sustainable Approach”: New Voices in Construction Reinvention

In the Brazilian architectural scene, Felipe Savassi stands out for being a unique mix of designer and communicator. He shares his passion for architecture and his entrepreneurial vision with his thousands of students and followers on social media, with content that seeks to promote an approach centered on the promotion of industrialized and modular construction. With a degree in Architecture and Urbanism from the Isabela Hendrix Institute in Belo Horizonte, his professional activity is supported by four essential pillars: design and execution of architectural projects, education, mentoring and consulting, and a strong commitment to communication and content dissemination.

The construction sector is notoriously traditional and resistant to change. That’s why communication is a central pillar of my strategy. To meet the challenges and overcome current barriers, such as entrenched prejudices and outdated practices, it is crucial to prioritize education and promote open dialogue. My commitment is to demonstrate that there are innovative and effective construction methods available. There is a market demand for solutions that address the recurring problems of conventional construction, such as delays, budget overruns, waste and a lack of consistency in quality, as well as a shortage of skilled labor. Industrialization is emerging as the only sustainable approach to drive the sector forward. – Felipe Savassi

In the following interview, he shares a broad view of the possibilities for change in the construction sector, with a specific focus on the possibilities for making processes more efficient and industrialized in the Brazilian context.

Eduardo Souza (ArchDaily): How do you see the need for change in the Brazilian mentality regarding the adoption of modular architecture, considering the predominance of traditional construction techniques and the growing shortage of skilled labor?

Felipe Savassi: It’s true that the construction sector has been one of the least developed in recent decades, and this is due to a number of factors. Artisanal techniques and the high demand for labor have undermined the sector’s productivity and efficiency, resulting in delays, inflated budgets and compromised quality. In addition, there is a considerable environmental impact, with around 30% of the materials used being wasted. The challenge regarding the available workforce is particularly acute, as we are not seeing the necessary renewal in younger generations, who are reluctant to work in harsh conditions and with unsatisfactory pay. Studies indicate a possible “blackout” of labor in the coming years if the market continues to grow without significant changes. The industrialization of construction processes, including modular architecture, appears to be the most viable solution for overcoming these obstacles and modernizing the sector.

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In developed countries, modular architecture is often associated with efficiency and quality due to its specialized workforce. In Brazil, resistance to change is partly cultural and partly economic. 

Traditional construction techniques, although cheaper initially, result in significant indirect costs, such as delays, wasted materials and inconsistent quality. The adoption of modular architecture in Brazil is an urgent necessity, not only to improve the efficiency and sustainability of the sector, but also to address the growing shortage of skilled labor. The transition to more modern, industrialized building practices can be accelerated through government incentives, investments in technical education and a change in public perception of modular construction.

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ES: Regarding modular buildings, what are the most effective solutions (internal or external) that you have seen work successfully? What are the main ingredients for a successful project?

FS: The modular solutions that have proved most effective are those that combine flexibility, sustainability and adaptability. Hybrid construction, which integrates modular elements with traditional techniques, has stood out for its ability to adapt to the specific needs of each project. 

The main ingredients for a successful modular project include detailed planning, collaboration between all parties involved, the use of high-quality materials and a controlled manufacturing process. 

In addition, the ability to customize and scale solutions according to project demand is crucial. The key is in the flexibility to choose the degree of industrialization that offers the best return on investment, be it 10%, 50% or even 100% of the project. The modular approach should be seen as a spectrum of possibilities, rather than a one-size-fits-all solution.

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ES: How can modular buildings be adapted to deal with extreme weather conditions, such as intense heat or cold, humidity, etc.? And how durable can they be?

FS: Modularity offers highly adaptable solutions for dealing with extreme weather conditions. The use of isothermal panels, such as SIPs (Structural Insulated Panels), provides superior thermal performance, being up to five times more efficient than traditional masonry. For extreme climates, whether hot or cold, it is essential to reinforce the closure and insulation solutions, increasing the thickness and density of the components to improve performance. In the case of humidity, the strategy is to avoid direct contact between buildings and the ground, raising them at least 50 cm above ground level and applying appropriate waterproofing treatments. In addition, most of the materials used in modular construction are water-repellent, which contributes to better moisture management.

Modular structures are designed to meet or exceed established performance standards, guaranteeing a minimum service life. In challenging climatic conditions, such as coastal areas with sea spray or locations with high humidity or temperatures, extra care is needed when selecting materials and protection systems. Industrialized components and systems tend to be more durable and require less maintenance than traditional constructions. For example, industrialized components for façades in coastal areas can offer paint guarantees of up to 30 years, in contrast to traditional solutions that require frequent maintenance.

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For transportation, the most effective materials for a modular home are those that, when correctly calculated and specified, maintain structural integrity during movement and assembly. Steel, engineered wood and concrete are commonly used because of their strength and durability. Correct specification ensures that the materials can withstand the stresses of transportation and lifting without compromising the final structure.

ES: How can technologies such as 3D printing and Artificial Intelligence impact the field of construction?

FS: 3D printing has the potential to revolutionize modular construction by enabling the manufacture of customized components with precision and efficiency. The technique is particularly beneficial for the production of panelized components that can be transported and assembled on the construction site, optimizing the process and reducing the need to transport heavy equipment. Combining 3D printing with other systems and materials results in hybrid solutions that can offer excellent value for money and flexibility in the final design of the building.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is becoming a transformative factor in modular construction, with a significant impact on various stages of the building process. In design, AI can help optimize layouts, simulate energy performance and integrate building systems, ensuring efficiency right from the start. In manufacturing, it can improve the precision of the components produced, reduce material waste and speed up production through advanced automation. In assembly, AI contributes to logistics, coordinating the delivery and assembly of modules more efficiently, as well as providing robotic assistance on the construction site, improving safety and speed of execution. Artificial Intelligence will represent a significant change in a number of areas, and its impact on construction, especially architecture, where I work directly, will be especially marked.

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I believe that the work of architects will be one of the most impacted by the use of AI. The way they work is going to undergo a major transformation and anyone who isn’t prepared for this will certainly be left out of the market.

It is essential to understand that modular and industrialized construction does not require an absolute approach; it is flexible and adaptable. The integration of modular systems can vary according to the specific needs of each project, allowing for a smooth transition between traditional and modern methods. This flexibility is crucial for market acceptance, especially in the face of a shortage of skilled labor. Modularity is not a single solution, but rather a spectrum of options that can be adapted to optimize construction, making it more sustainable, efficient and affordable. As the industry advances, the adoption of modular and industrialized practices will become increasingly prevalent, driving innovation and evolution in the construction sector.

This article is part of the ArchDaily Topic: Modular Housing, proudly presented by BUILDNER.

BUILDNER celebrates architecture competitions as an effective tool for achieving progress by fostering groundbreaking ideas that push the industry forward. “Through academic and project competitions, we are building an inclusive and diverse community of architects and designers, by promoting critical topics such as affordable, sustainable and small-scale housing to address global challenges. Our goal is to inspire the next generation of designers to propose innovative solutions and challenge the status quo.”

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