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Exponential Change – The Evolution of Reconfigurable, Relocatable Buildings

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In 1965, Gordon Moore predicted that computing power would increase exponentially – doubling every two years. This rule, known as Moore’s Law, has held true for several decades and translates into a breathtaking pace of change. As technology has progressed, it has disrupted industries, prompted mergers, acquisitions, reorgs and the need for an ever-evolving skillset. New forms of education and “upskilling” of a workforce are essential to remain competitive.

Moore wasn’t thinking of buildings or construction projects when he came up with this insight, but such rapid advances in technology have wide-ranging impacts. These changes put pressure on facility managers to revise their thinking from long-term to near-term and from permanent to flexible. It has also prompted the development of more efficient construction processes that can be executed in a timely manner.

Project teams continue to weigh options to create innovative structures in a quick, yet cost effective way. Two main options are traditional and relocatable buildings. Relocatable buildings offer a fast, cost effective solution for establishing flexible space when time and budget are of the essence.

A relocatable building is designed to be reusable or repurposed multiple times and transported to different building sites. They are built off-site and are utilized for schools, construction site offices, medical clinics, sales centers and in any instance where there is a need for temporary space. Mobile space also offers companies the opportunity to expand without the budget approval necessary for traditional capital expenses, serving as an ideal alternative to traditional construction.

Modern relocatable buildings offer an alternative to traditional mobile offices, which often sacrifice amenities that are characteristic of permanent office settings. Today there are an estimated 500,000 code-compliant relocatable buildings in use in North America; this is a 9.2 percent increase from 2015, according to the Modular Building Institute. Although this represents a significant amount of space, many of these facilities would not be recognized for their design aesthetics.

So, the pressing question is, how do you create a relocatable building that is reusable, advanced in its design, cost efficient and a greener more sustainable space? Triumph Modular, a specialty modular building contractor based outside of Boston, set out to redefine the mobile building landscape by creating the first-of-its-kind high-end office space.

Triumph’s first initiative to create a more refined relocatable building was for schools. Developed in response to the Open Architecture Challenge: Design the Classroom of the Future by Architecture for Humanity and the Open Architecture Network, Triumph partnered with architecture firm Perkins+Will to create a sustainable modular classroom solution that addressed issues of resiliency, self-sufficiency, mobility and indoor air quality. The award-winning space known as Sprout Space is a 1,500 square foot modular classroom allowing teachers and students to engage within an adaptable space that can accommodate modern methods of teaching and learning.

The Sprout Space design is also being used as temporary marketing space for real estate developer, Berkshire Group, as it completes one of Boston’s most anticipated projects of 2017: The Benjamin and VIA. The Berkshire Group wanted a temporary marketing space that would accurately demonstrate their vision for the world-class residential and retail experience that will set the new standard for the city of Boston. Located in the heart of the thriving Seaport district, the 1,500 square foot office space consists of two modular units with modern glass architecture. Sustainable features include PV ready for seamless solar integration, LED down lights, occupancy and daylight sensors, non-porous phenolic panels, and Greenguard certified materials. Other notable features include customized interior movable walls, custom color exterior wall panels, exterior marker boards, integrated white boards, and tack boards, pre-wired for digital projection and technology screens. The space would achieve LEED Gold certification if permanently installed.

Triumph’s development of Sprout Space helped pave the way for a collaboration with biopharmaceutical leader EMD Serono to create state-of-the-art modular office space for Director-level staff visiting from overseas.

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Design features of EMD Serono’s space include beautiful reception and sitting areas, track and accent lighting, decorative millwork throughout the conference rooms, kitchen and café area, full glass walls, bamboo flooring, marble counter tops, over 100 cubicles, and cutting-edge audio and visual and lighting controls. This space recently won the 2017 award of distinction from the Modular Building Institute in the Relocatable Office category.

The latest example of Triumph’s development of mobile office space is the Mobile Big Room. This modern modular space combines visual management tools and open-office design characteristics to help support on-site teamwork and collaboration.

The Mobile Big Room enables forward-thinking construction companies, architects, owners and sub-contractors to collaborate on the design, plans and construction of projects from one location in a flexible setting that supports larger groups. It was developed in response to the growing number of teams using Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) or similar project management approaches to provide the highest level of quality assurance, issue resolution and cost control.

This type of ongoing collaboration has proven to be effective within the industry. A study published by the International Journal of Project Management concluded: “Team integration should be an aspiration because it leads to efficiency of the delivery process and cost effectiveness through elimination of waste. Competitiveness and profitability are increased which enable firms to deliver better value for money and meet clients’ needs.” The Mobile Big Room is the first facility designed to better support IPD and cross-team collaboration in the field.

Mobile Big Rooms are modern in design featuring Energy Star® oversized windows providing natural light, vision glass entry doors, Galvalume® metal siding for durability and enhanced aesthetics, solid core insulated steel doors, keyless entry locks, LED lighting, data ports and outside electrical ports. The Mobile Big Room features a large IdeaPaintTM wall that doubles as a dry erase board to encourage brainstorming and collaboration in an open floor layout that fosters visual management, a Lean practice that places in plain view all tools, parts and production activities.

As the construction industry continues to evolve with advancements in technology, modular construction, both temporary and permanent, will continue to serve as a strong solution to accommodate the growing need for adaptable facilities. The physical need for innovative and flexible work environments will continue to be directly affected by the transformation and demand of individual company’s need for workspace, which will result in the need for facility managers to easily reimagine – to both see and understand – the buildings of the future.

Rusty Williams manages the development of special-use and educational buildings for Triumph Modular, a specialty-building contractor creating high-quality customizable modular buildings for world-class universities, including Harvard’s most recently completed Pagliuca Life Lab. He has an extensive background in technology and innovation as the founder of multiple companies. He focuses on the intersection of technology and physical space with the goal of creating inspiring learning and work environments. He holds a degree in economics from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut.