Latest innovations and products in the offsite sections of the construction industry.

Milbank Concrete Products recently worked alongside RG Group on the design, manufacture and installation of over 90 specialist precast concrete flint embossed retaining walls at the St James Retail Leisure Park development in Dover, with an estimated contract sum of circa £24m.

The St James development has transformed the retail and leisure offer in the heart of Dover and south Kent and is located on the A20, the main road leading to the Port of Dover, making it highly visible and accessible to visitors, tourists and those travelling to and from the port.

The development comprises a range of outlets including an M&S store, a six-screen multiplex Cineworld cinema, a 108-bed Travelodge hotel and five national chain restaurants, along with a further 12 retail units ranging in size from 2730 to 16,000ft2 (254 to 1486m2). With over 450 car parking spaces and 156,915ft2 (14,578m2) of new retail and leisure space in total, the development is well equipped to cater for a large number of visitors on a daily basis.

Design and construction

Milbank produced 97 precast concrete walls in total, ranging from 6 to 11 tonnes, using four separate timber moulds. The complex moulds were handcrafted by skilled, in-house carpenters and specific requirements were agreed with regard to the flint layout by Dover District Council, Dover Planning Departments and the site contractors in co-ordination with Historic England, using examples of local existing flint walls.

The flexibility of having four individual moulds allowed the production team to hand-lay the flint into two moulds, while the remaining two moulds were poured. The panels were cast over a ten-week period at Milbank’s precast concrete factory in Earls Colne. During the casting process, sand was used as a bed within the timber moulds to assist with the placement and spacing of individual flint stones, which were hand laid face down in the agreed style. Dover District Council visited the factory during the production period to assess the flint arrangement and to ensure it met its needs and gave the best possible match to existing flint walls and buildings in the vicinity.

To create the desired finish, the production team hand-picked the stones to ensure they all interlocked together neatly. Once this extremely time-consuming process was complete, steel cages, lifters and pipes were located and installed and the concrete carefully poured over the top of the flint stones to form the wall structures. The following day, once the concrete curing process was complete, the excess sand was washed off and the units were turned using the in-house gantry crane to present the finished article.

Milbank’s modern Sipe batching plant is capable of producing 35m3 of concrete per hour. For this particular project, a standard C40/50 strength-class concrete comprising of 460kg/3 of Portland cement, 1800kg/m3 of mixed aggregates and 40kg/m3 calcium carbonate fines were selected to create the desired finish and achieve the level of structural integrity required.

Installation and completion

Due to the size and weight of the wall units, with some weighing up to 11 tonnes and sitting at over 5m tall, a complex installation procedure was required involving the use of both 100-tonne and 80-tonne mobile cranes (lifting up to a radius of 17m) in combination with the specialist precast installation team. Due to the access restrictions on-site, short trailers were arranged for delivery ahead of schedule following on from an initial site consultation and the delivery vehicles arrived on a ‘just-in-time’ basis, allowing for the walls to be offloaded directly into position.

Each individual wall was located over projecting steel dowels and cast into the foundations on-site by the main contractor RG Group, a specialist in the retail, student accommodation and commercial sectors of the construction industry. Lined and levelled on shims and bedding, the walls dowel connections were fully grouted using specialist pipes cast into the rear of the structures during the manufacturing phase. The walls were designed with male-to-female connections to act as a shear key, which allowed the walls to act in unison and to reduce individual movement once installation was complete.

Due to the walls being manufactured and installed as individual units, it was required that the joining sections be hand-filled on-site by the main contractor with matching flint stones to consolidate all units into one flowing piece. Finally, end columns and caps were also manufactured on-site by the main contractor to provide finishing touches to the wall structure. The flint walls now act as a screen to the service area for the main retail block from the roadside, which includes M&S and Next at the Dover St James development.

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In February, schoolchildren from around the globe went on strike to demand urgent action on climate change. It followed stark warnings within a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stating that unprecedented measures are required within the next 12 years to limit temperature rises to 1.5°C above pre-industrial times – avoiding potentially catastrophic global impacts.

With the built environment estimated to account for around 40% of total UK carbon emissions1, improving the energy efficiency of our buildings must be viewed as a priority.

The Passivhaus Standard offers a proven model for minimising the energy usage of buildings via a fabric-first approach. By applying its principals with the precise design, improved predictability and outstanding thermal performance of structural insulated panels (SIPs), developers are now achieving Passivhaus Certification on projects of increasing scale and complexity.

Getting Certified

At its core, the Passivhaus Standard aims to allow the creation of buildings which require very little energy to heat or cool, whilst also providing a high level of comfort for occupants. To achieve this, it sets clear energy performance targets which a building must meet:

  • Primary energy demand ≤ 120 kWh/m2/yr
  • Space heating/cooling demand ≤ 15 kWh/m2/yr
  • Specific cooling load ≤ 10 W/m2
  • Passivhaus performance targets for cooler climate buildings

To put these figures in context, the maximum space heating demand for a Passivhaus building is around 10% of that of an average home (estimated to be 140 kWh/m2/yr 2). As such, whilst these criteria do not specifically address a building’s carbon emissions, in practice they should significantly limit emissions when compared with a property built to current Building Regulations/Standards.

To meet these criteria, all areas of the external fabric of the property typically need to be insulated to a U-value of 0.15 W/m2.K, or lower. It is also a requirement of Passivhaus that the building be fundamentally ‘thermal bridge free’. To achieve this, close attention to detailing is crucial when designing the building and installing the insulation to ensure that potential thermal bridges around openings and at junctions (especially the wall / floor) are properly addressed. In addition, air leakage rates must be no higher than 0.6 ach@50 Pa. This is typically achieved by installing an airtight layer, such as oriented strand board (OSB), and airtight tape, which is applied to seal all junctions.

High levels of airtightness within Passivhaus buildings necessitates good ventilation via means of a mechanical ventilation with heat recovery (MVHR) system. MVHR systems extract the heat from outgoing stale air and transfer it to warm incoming fresh air, further reducing the heating demand and ensuring a fresh, comfortable environment within the home.

Whilst it is possible to attain Passivhaus certification with traditional construction methods, in many cases offsite construction approaches such as SIPs can provide a simpler, faster and more adaptable solution to meeting the demanding fabric requirements.


A typical SIP comprises an insulated core sandwiched between two layers of oriented strand board (OSB), with a jointing system that ensures excellent insulation continuity throughout the envelope, limiting repeating thermal bridging. The panels are precision cut to each project’s particular specifications in a production facility, including spaces for openings, such as windows and doors. This ensures an accurate fit, significantly reducing the need for onsite adjustments and waste. It also gives architects considerable freedom in determining the design for the property.

The panels offer excellent ‘out-of-the-box’ fabric performance with whole wall and roof U-values of 0.20 – 0.17 W/m2.K, or better. By assessing all junctions and openings within the building envelope, and carefully installing additional insulation, thermal bridges can be eliminated, and the U-values of all elements reduced to the required level.

The jointing arrangements inherent in SIPs can also support extremely airtight structures. Once an airtight membrane is fitted internally and tape is applied to junctions, the air leakage rate can be reduced to the 0.6 ach @ 50 Pa required by the Passivhaus Standard.

SIPs also provide a number of practical benefits. Their offsite production process supports greater predictability in scheduling, allowing project teams to accurately plan for panel deliveries, avoiding trade overlaps and maximising site efficiency.

The panels can be quickly installed by a small team of trained operatives with a dry construction process that is less dependent on weather conditions than other traditional approaches. When SIPs are used for both the walls and roof, the outer shell of domestic properties can often be erected in just two to three weeks. With the addition of a breather membrane to the panel exteriors, the construction is made weathertight — allowing internal fit-out to begin. The outer timber facing also provides a suitable substrate for a variety of cladding options including brick slips, render and timber cladding.

In Practice

One project to take advantage of the benefits SIPs provide is the Norwich Regeneration Company’s Rayne Park estate. The development includes a mix of private and affordable housing, with 112 of the 172 properties, earmarked for full Passivhaus Certification.

The Kingspan TEK Building System was chosen to form the envelope of many of the dwellings based on its technical specification and value offered through its offsite production process. The first phase of the development completed this March, with the Passivhaus units expected to have a heating demand of just 11 kWh/m2/yr and a primary energy requirement of 77 kWh/m2/yr.

Scalable Solution

With over 65,000 buildings now certified Passivhaus around the globe, the Standard provides a clear route to dramatically reducing the energy performance, and consequently carbon emissions, from our buildings. Offsite approaches such as SIPs provide the ideal delivery method for this standard, allowing the cost-effective construction of entire estates.

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Kerkstoel 2000+ manufacture so called twin walls and lattice slabs, these products combine the advantages of precast with insitu placed concrete.

Kerkstoel 2000+ is one of the most innovative concrete companies in Europe. It is part of the Kerkstoel Group and is based in Grobbendonk (Belgium).It specializes in the production of precast concrete walls and floors. Every precast element is made to measure in a highly automated factory. Based on the architect’s design (general arrangements and cross-sections), structural calculations, formwork and installation plans, Kerkstoel 2000+ develops an installation plan, with all the necessary details, so that everything runs smoothly and according to plan on site.

The floors, or lattice slabs, are used as a structural and aesthetic underside of a concrete floor. Basically permanent formwork they are the ideal substrate for concrete floors and can be made in all shapes, up to 7 cm thick. Wide plates are equipped with bottom reinforcement and on the underside they have a very smooth surface. After placing the lattice slabs and propping the top reinforcement is installed. Finally, the slabs are poured with concrete to the desired floor thickness. The result: a solid concrete floor where the load is perfectly distributed.

The reinforced twin walls of Kerkstoel consist of two shells of reinforced concrete that are connected to each other by lattice girders. All necessary built-in parts are provided in the walls during production (such as electrical boxes, power conduits, openings for windows and doors, wooden boxes, etc.).The wall elements are then assembled on site according to plan and then filled with concrete. The result is a solid construction as strong as a monolithic cast insitu concrete wall. These systems ensure high quality on site in a shorter construction time. The heavy skilled labour, such as steel-fixing and formwork, is limited to an absolute minimum. Thanks to the hybrid character, namely the combination between prefab concrete and in situ concrete, with the necessary water-bars the walls can also be used for underground structures.

In 2018 Kerkstoel 2000+ invested in a brand new automated production hall. With this production hall, Kerkstoel wants to further specialize in the concrete wall sector. Concrete walls with integrated insulation, sandwich panels, walls with prints, etc. will now also be be possible. Kerkstoel 2000+ has been active on the British market for more than 10 years, and has delivered walls and floor slabs to numerous contractors. Contact us and see what we can do for you!

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James Jones Timber Systems Division forms partnership with Ockwells to offer stairwell protection systems to UK housebuilders.

James Jones & Sons’ Timber Systems Division, the maker of the UK’s market-leading I-Joist system, JJI-Joists, has entered into a partnership with specialist building and protection materials manufacturer Ockwells, which will see it recommending Ockwells’ Stairwell Hatch System to all JJI-Joist customers in the future.

After months of research in to available stairwell protection systems, James Jones’ Timber Systems Division has opted to recommend the Ockwells temporary site protection system because of its superior build quality, flexibility in applications of use and the simplicity of installing the system to house building and construction sites without adaptation to existing build practices.
Independently tested and verified, the Ockwells Stairwell Hatch System is designed to provide full cover platforms over the stairwell openings in various combinations to suit all build sites and conditions. Once installed, the system prevents falls through large stairwell opening whilst giving access for operatives and materials.

The system is designed to be lightweight for handling and ease of use on site and it allows safe and fixed access to a ladder prior to a staircase being fitted. The system comprises three parts – hinged and framed glass reinforced plastic (GRP), a steel ladder plate for securing a ladder and a steel box sections adjustable telescopic joist, which allows openings next to party walls to be accommodated by the system.

Speaking of the joint venture Mark Tilston, Systems Development Manager for James Jones’ Timber Systems Division, said “Stairwell protection systems is something that our business has been investigating and researching for a while now and we are delighted to have found in Ockwells a partner that provides a robust and safe solution for all JJI-Joist distributors and end users.
“The Stairwell Hatch System is well designed, solidly manufactured and above all, it works. They have also produced a simple step by step installation guide which gives you clear advice on many applications. The system allows you to continue using crash deck systems and bird cage platforms which is unique. Their product has been independently tested to give you confidence.”

John Gray, Sales Director at Ockwells, said “Ockwells are delighted to be partnering with James Jones’ in this new and exciting development. Having spent a great deal of time developing the Stairwell Hatch System it’s great to see that our customers are seeing the benefits from our safety system.

“As well as providing a safe working platform over stairwell openings, the Stairwell Hatch System is also very cost-effective, being reusable means that the initial investment is quickly recouped when compared to the cost of using sacrificial joists, which can run into hundreds of pounds per plot. We believe that the combined expertise of James Jones’ and Ockwells will result in significant health and safety, and cost benefits to James Jones’ customers.”

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FLI Carlow are the premier total service provider of engineered structural solutions to the Water, Energy, Storm Attenuation and Bespoke markets. Our capacity to design not just the precast units, but the structure into which they integrate and the manufacturing tools used to make them has kept us at the forefront of innovation in our industry.

Semi-precast is the core of our business, a hybrid between traditional in-situ concrete and traditional precast. Although sometimes seen as an under-developed off-site manufactured solution, the semi-precast design philosophy brings enormous improvement to cost and construction efficiency.

The semi-precast approach aims to deliver solutions fully compliant with the operational design requirement. The ideal configuration is not adapted to prefabrication. Whereas we will identify cost and time saving opportunities during the design development phase, we can adapt to the most precise configurations for operational accuracy. In principle, any structure imagined in in-situ concrete can be delivered in semi-precast. Approving Authority confidence is engendered by implementing designs which cannot be disproved by failure to comply in any respect with the specified codes and standards, whether national, international or customer specific. We place wet concrete against hard concrete, the way it’s always been done. The difference is that some of the concrete was manufactured elsewhere and the location of joints and interfaces are unconventional. Regardless, the integrity of joints and interfaces remains uncompromised and verified by design.

The Benefit of Prefabrication

We complete the difficult parts of construction in our factory, under ideal conditions and under quality supervision. Features including pipe-fittings, nibs, corbels, launder-channels, formwork attachments and stability-footings (among others) are eliminated from the site works. Products are delivered to site on a just-in-time basis then taken from the delivery vehicle to their service position in one simple operation without fuss or temporary propping. Small crews achieve amazing productivity by following simple steps and using well designed components and delivery systems.


Precast concrete units can weight in excess of 20 tonnes. Under normal manufacturing tolerances, it could be very difficult to ensure the precision required to maintain accurate alignment and watertight fit. The in-situ joint provides a transition between elements which ensures a complete and perfect fit (in it’s liquid phase) and a completely ‘relaxed’ structure at introduction to service. We don’t stress pieces into alignment or position. The design assumptions are fully realised.

Waterproofing Integrity

At every interface a scabbled surface is prepared. In addition, a smooth dense slot is preserved for the application of hydrophilic strip. This provides ongoing self-healing capability in service. We use only one hydrophilic product; Denso Hydrotite. Hydrotite is resilient to inflation prior to encasement in concrete. It can compress against the surrounding concrete with a pressure of up to 3MPa on contact with water and has been approved by Tokyo Underground for design life up to 100 years. It is also DWI and Materials in Contact approved for potable water applications in the UK. That’s 100 years to first significant maintenance of the structure – no compromise. Sealants used at the mechanical interfaces of traditional precast concrete tanking structures rarely have a service life in excess of 20 years. These features are particularly relevant to storm attenuation, storage, treatment and basement applications,

Structural Continuity

Although relatively short, the in-situ joint is used to enable two-way bending of the structure. This capacity is not available using any other precast approach. Reinforcement lap lengths are designed on a bond-stress basis to ensure full capacity in smaller spaces. Even the interface between the in-situ concrete stitch and the precast unit is designed for the same crack-width control as the body of the structure. This ensures that all elements of the structure provide the minimum standard of waterproofing integrity and full compliance with concrete structures design standards.

By bending in both orthogonal directions, structures are thinner, lighter, economical, require less transport, less craneage and have a lower carbon cost.


Our particular concrete mix design delivers very high early strength for efficient production, typically, 25 Newtons at 16 hours. This ensures maximum safety and maximum value by extracting products daily. We use very high concentrations of GGBS (66%) which in conjunction with other energy and carbon saving measures has reduced our carbon cost from 278kg/tonne of concrete manufactured to 182kg/tonne. To ensure the high early strengths despite the use of GGBS we use thermal activation. By adding mixing water at up to 80°C the disadvantage of slow strength development of GGBS is eliminated.

Sulphate Resistance

High levels of GGBS when used in conjunction with limestone cement and limestone powders (for self-compacting behaviour) produce a design chemical resistance class DC4. That’s sulphate resistant concrete at no additional cost.


The precast unit is delivered to site with projecting reinforcement often from five of it’s six faces. All components are 3D modelled prior to manufacture and assembled in model-space prior to fabrication. This eliminates the risk of clashing reinforcement and disruption to programme. Projecting reinforcement leaves very few bars to be placed on site.

Typically the vertical in-situ stitches represent 30% of the volume of the perimeter and internal walls. While precast concrete products are relatively expensive (although value-adding), the concrete used in the joints is locally sourced readymix at approximately £40 per tonne.

The formwork required is very light. Shuttering ply facing with vertical stiffeners is locked against the structure using steel braces and MKK cone anchors. The advantage in this low cost approach is that the formwork is torsionally flexible adapting easily to the surfaces on which they bear. Smooth transitions and tight interfaces are achieved. Through-ties are completely eliminated. These are often a problematic feature of conventional in-situ works.

Length of Joints

The number and length of joints in our solutions are often questioned. Our industry sees joints as the most problematic elements of waterproof concrete construction – more joints, more risk. The rebuttal is that it’s not the number of joints you fear, but the distance between them. Traditional construction methods utilise joints at 6m – 10m centres. Thermal and drying shrinkage accumulate over these lengths and are concentrated at a single interface. The precast unit has long completed its shrinkage when placed on site therefore the shrinkage to be addressed is that occurring over only 500mm. In addition, each interface has the benefit of a factory prepared scabble, reinforcement continuity designed to the higher standards for crack-width control and a self-healing strip at each end. The semi-precast interface is subject to only between 5% and 10% of the movement occurring at conventional joint. As a result, it is significantly better preforming than conventional concrete in this respect.

Rate of Construction

Semi-precast structures are typically completed in 60% to 40% of the time taken to deliver conventional structures. This is where the value lies, both in terms of reduced preliminaries and hugely increased productivity. During the conventionally difficult construction of vertical and suspended works, equivalent productivity per person on site is ten times greater.

For more information please call +44 (0) 1279 423303, email or visit

St. Andrews University in Fife chose Creagh Concrete for the first stage of their £70million investment plans in student accommodation for the university. MMC Magazine Editor Joe Bradbury finds out more:

A building of historical significance

Founded in the 15th century, St Andrews is Scotland’s first university and the third oldest in the English speaking world. Teaching began in the community of St Andrews in 1410, and the University was formally constituted by the issue of a papal bull in 1413.

In 2009, St Andrews became the first Scottish ancient to appoint a woman as Principal, recruiting Professor Louise Richardson from the Radcliffe Institute, Harvard, to lead it into its seventh century. She was succeeded in 2016 by Professor Sally Mapstone.

St Andrews recently celebrated 600 years of continuous existence during which time it has made an enduring contribution to the intellectual and cultural life of both Scotland and the wider world.

Project overview

The first stage of the investment called for two new accommodation buildings for the campus. The new buildings called Powell Hall and Whitehorn Hall respectively have created 389 new bedrooms for the university.

Creagh provided architectural concrete cladding for the buildings including feature walls with etched lettering. In total, Creagh installed 695 GFRC concrete pieces for both projects. Glass Fibre Reinforced Concrete or GFRC (also known as GRC) is a type of fibre-reinforced concrete. GRC consists of high-strength glass fibres embedded in a concrete matrix. Both fibres and matrix offer a synergistic combination of properties that cannot be achieved with either of the components acting alone. The fibres provide reinforcement for the matrix, increasing its tensile strength, limiting the shrinkage and creep processes as well as eliminating curing cracking appearance.

For the St Andrews project, Creagh developed a project-specific GRC mix to match both the structural performance and aesthetics requirements. This allowed the installation of floor to floor panels with 25mm concrete skin and no steel rebar. Creagh’s manufacturing facility rose to the challenge of precise filigree moulding and different casting techniques required for the panels. Among the benefits of GRC: it’s reduction in thickness provides an increased cavity and/or insulation allowance and a smaller loading to the façade. All of which significatively reduce the buildings carbon footprint but providing the same durability and resilience as traditional concrete.

Powell Hall opened its doors to postgraduate students for the first time in October 2018. It is named after Renee Powell, American professional golfer who became one of the first female members of the R&A in 2015 and was the second African -American woman ever to play on the LPGA Tour. The new building is five-storeys and adjacent to Agnes Blackadder Hall on the North Haugh, near the various science buildings. It is also located near to the Sports Centre and is only a 15 minute walk to the town centre.

Aluminium copings were also installed on Whitehorn building, a four-storey building located adjacent to University Hall, near to the Sports Centre and the various science buildings on the North Haugh. It is named after Katharine Whitehorn – British journalist, writer and columnist, and first female Rector of the University of St Andrews from 1982 to 1985.

The decision to use precast concrete systems for the bulk of the building’s structural frame, cladding and balcony units was taken at an early stage on the project. The brief demanded a robust finish on the building, which would limit the amount of ongoing maintenance required.

Precast concrete is the ideal material of choice for frame construction and cladding.

Rising to the challenge

The job itself was not without its challenges. Speaking with MMC Magazine, Contracts Manager Ramon Escriva said “On the technical side, it was a very difficult installation with most of the panels with no access to fixings. We devised a range of different solutions to provide fixing points. There were also several cases with overhung panels that required special craneage arrangements.”

Creagh Director and Co-Founder Seamus McKeague added “We are seeing strong interest in our rapid build concrete systems because developers now understand the true value of slashing programme times.

“Investors not only benefit from revenue gained by the early occupation of units but, also, from the mobility of their capital resource. Quite simply, shorter build times mean developers can complete more projects with the same pot of finance.”

The brand new building offers various facilities for students to use for studying and/or socialising including, main social space, games room, cinema room, private dining room, sound insulated music room, study spaces, kitchen/lounges & a laundry room.

The new additions to the halls of residences will increase residential space offered by the University from 4,000 to 4,900 occupants, in an effort to accommodate the increase of students attending the University.

Tackling the severe accommodation shortage

From a political point of view, this project couldn’t have come at a better time, with Scotland facing a “clear problem” with providing accommodation for university students on campus.
In a recent article in the Scotsman, Green MSP Mark Ruskell called on the Scottish Government to hold a summit of university accommodation providers and student representatives to tackle the issue. Speaking at Holyrood, he said “I think it is clear that we have got a problem across Scotland.

“At Stirling University 180 first year students didn’t have accommodation last year. Under-18s cannot rent in the private sector, care leavers and international students struggle to find guarantors for private contracts. Disabled students very rarely find the appropriate private accommodation to meet their needs and we see increasing rents on campus as well.”

About Creagh

Creagh Concrete has been a pioneer of precast for over 43 years. They are one of the UK’s largest producers of concrete products for a diverse range of market sectors throughout the UK and Ireland. Creagh is leading the market with innovation in concrete, providing new solutions across the construction industry, changing the way people think about concrete, bringing new levels of efficiency and performance to their products.

The company operates from its head office in Toomebridge, Northern Ireland with bases in Ardboe, Dunloy, Draperstown and Magheraglass and also at Nottingham, England and Edinburgh, Scotland.

We asked them what their ethos is and this is what they said: “Creagh is all about quality products & relationships – strong relationships with our customers, sub-contractors, clients and suppliers. These relationships are key to our business and our approach to working together to deliver successful projects. From initial design consultation, through project development, groundworks, installation and beyond, your scheme couldn’t be in more experienced hands.”

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Energy Crisis, Global Warming, Carbon Reduction, Sustainability, Zero Carbon, Environmental Footprint – these are all terms familiar to the general public, yet seemingly remote to the construction industry which has such a significant role to play in the protection of our future environment.

As a major influence on the condition of the environment, both actively in the building process and passively in the results of our efforts (ie. the buildings), there is a curious reluctance to adopt measures which would benefit future generations.

The Committee on Climate Change Report just published, for example, is pretty damning of the construction industry’s efforts to counter our impact on the environment. Far from leading in measures to counter global warming, England (particularly) aspires to some of the poorest energy standards in Europe. The Report identifies that energy use in our homes actually increased from 2016 – 2017!

Over the years, however, a variety of organisations and groups have actively campaigned to stimulate more sustainable construction, with varying measures of success. The Passivhaus Institut was established in Germany to promote building homes which are sufficiently insulated and weathertight to eliminate the need for an active or central heating system, the principle being that the energy generated and recycled within the home is sufficient for a comfortable lifestyle in all but extreme weather conditions.

Back in 1995-96, as energy efficiency was starting to be taken more seriously, isorast GmbH (aka BecoWallform in the UK) launched a national competition to design a Passivhaus (Yes, the Passivhaus really has been around since then!). The competition was a huge success attracting worldwide entries and helping to establish the Passivhaus as a practical proposition.

Now Passivhaus is becoming a popular specification, the next stage of development is the E-Haus, the Energy House, generating and storing all its own energy independent of the grid and delivering surplus energy back into the local network to reduce the requirement for centralised energy production. Advancing technology in design and detailing of building fabric, equipment and energy storage is creating the opportunity to build homes and communities with a negative carbon footprint in a more balanced environment.

Following the success of the original Passivhaus competition, isorast (BecoWallform) have launched a new competition to design the E-Haus, again leading the way in promoting a sustainable environment.

The E-Haus competition is open to architects and designers in the EU, UK and Switzerland, to design a family home up to 200 sq.m. which is energy self-sufficient. Total prize money is €55,000 and entries are to be submitted by 16 August 2019. The winning projects will be exhibited at the ReWoBau Trade fair in Wiesbaden, 7 – 9 February 2020. Further details and competition documents are available via the isorast website:

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As one of the UK’s largest off-site manufacturing businesses, Caledonian knows a thing or two about modular buildings. It’s one of the reasons why the company has grown to a turnover in excess of £50m and with a goal firmly set on doubling this over the next 2 years you get the distinct impression they’re set to change how the industry works. Having been founded over 50 years’ ago and now operating from a 40-acre site in Newark, Nottinghamshire, they’re unusual in having one of the longest trading histories in the modular sector.

Success has come about by sticking to what it does best; high quality modular accommodation that is delivered to site with up to 96% of the build completed in its quality assessed manufacturing facility. Proof is in the pudding and they don’t get much bigger than the £53m Hinkley Point C worker accommodation contract that was successfully delivered in 2018. Effectively creating in ‘new town’ in just 51 weeks, it shows the capability of modular construction and how, if the government’s rhetoric on solving the UK’s housing crisis once and for all translates into action, Hinkley is the shape of things to come. Housing providers should take note of what Caledonian has achieved – effectively creating a modular new town at Hinkley that houses 1,496 workers in just 51 weeks.

Caledonian’s innovative modular building system means that programme savings of up to 50% or more are possible compared with traditional forms of construction. And the programme can be more predictable than when using conventional methods as well as reducing waste and number of deliveries to site.

Project delivery

A central pillar to the company’s growth is the ongoing focus on quality and project delivery. The underpinning methodology is to take a traditionally constructed building and apply latest manufacturing techniques to drive efficiencies. The three core areas of this are the use of BIM, design for manufacturing and assembly (DfMA) and lean manufacturing techniques.

The results are replicable, too. The latest is a £25m project that involves Caledonian working with Bowmer & Kirkland to manufacture high quality student accommodation as part of a £54m development for the University Campus of Football Business, First Way Campus in Wembley.

The 680 bedrooms will be manufactured and installed by Caledonian and, similar to Hinkley, will be 96% complete prior to shipping to site. That was one of the main reasons they were selected for this project; because they could show how the modules would help meet the strict deadline dates, which required handover by July 2020 in time for Euro 2020. First Way Campus is situated a few minutes’ walk from Wembley Stadium, and will include a mix of purpose-built student accommodation as well as academic, office and outdoor space.

Fire compliance capabilities of the modular system also featured highly in the selection process, due to the high rise nature of the development. It rises to 11 storeys and that really shows what is possible with the company’s modular building solution. Caledonian gave the client and design team confidence post Grenfell, providing a pre-engineered fire compliant modular solution suitable for a development of this scale.

Damian Flood, CEO of Cole Waterhouse, said “We liked the modular building solution proposed by Bowmer + Kirkland and its supply partner Caledonian for First Way Campus because it was a practical way of meeting the strict schedule. We are providing Wembley and the UCFB students with a fantastic campus that will include a number of facilities for students including purpose built accommodation (678 beds), seminar rooms and staff office spaces as well as amenities such as a café style restaurant, a gym and library/IT suite.”

Developers Cole Waterhouse brokered a deal with Unite Students, a leading provider of student accommodation in the UK. Caledonian has incorporated the Unite requirements into the design to provide a higher standard student living experience than is traditionally expected.

Modular Mindset

Caledonian is a company with an eye firmly set on the future and as Chief Executive Officer Paul Lang explains: “Our ability to deliver to a strict schedule and have an existing fire compliant solution made a compelling proposition for First Way Campus. We are able to achieve consistent project delivery by investing in BIM, design for manufacturing and assembly (DfMA) and lean manufacturing. In combination we believe that it will help us raise industry standards across the board. Our long term goal is to lead change in the industry by establishing a ‘modular mindset’ with clients and developers.”

For more information on Caledonian modular buildings and offsite construction solutions, visit:

The demand for new school places and the crumbling state of primary and secondary schools is a pressing issue for Local Councils all over the UK. The situation, however, is starting to improve thanks to Government funding – in 2017 a pot of £2.4 billion was allocated for their improvement and maintenance.

Presuming that funding is in place, Councils still face a number of challenges before building can take place. For example, focus on the environment and growing energy costs mean that Councils are under more pressure than ever to deliver low energy, efficient spaces – all while sticking to budget. Safety of pupils and minimising disruption during term time of course remain pressing issues.

This need to focus on myriad issues, including the small task of ensuring the future sustainability of schools in their area, means that Councils are uniquely placed to take advantage of modern methods of construction.

Modular schools, delivered to site in segments over 2 or 3 days, such as those manufactured and installed by Wernick, are helping to solve many of the challenges presented by the education sector. And new frameworks are revolutionising the school building procurement process.

Wernick Buildings’ Divisional Manager for Scotland Chris Hart says that there is a “felicitous synergy between the education sector and modular construction”. Last year, the Wernick Scottish division experienced its busiest summer to date, tripling its turnover. Summer 2019 is expected to be even busier following the Scottish Government’s announcement of a £1 billion fund for rebuilding and refurbishing Scotland’s schools in November 2018.

Edinburgh, Inverness and Highlands Councils took receipt of ten new modular buildings from Wernick last summer. Installation, fit out and inspection took place over the summer vacation and the buildings were ready for pupils upon returning to school.

Ben Wernick, Director of Construction at Wernick explains “Modular building projects can be completed up to 50% quicker than traditional construction methods as the indoor ‘offsite’ construction process can take place alongside site and foundations work which also means very little delay due to the weather. Finishing buildings over the summer holidays means no disruption to teaching and no risk to pupils.”

More and more schools are switching on to the speed of factory manufactured buildings, but what about the aesthetic? The characterless demountables of the past have given way to digitally-led, modern designs, indistinguishable from ‘on-site’ constructed buildings and lauded by architectural firms such as ÜberRaum and Glancy Nicholls.

“The preconceptions are there but the reality is that when people walk into a modern modular building that Wernick has made, they realise this is a big step up from what they’re used to” commented Chris Hart, who has found that old feelings towards modular buildings die hard: “I’ve heard of teaching staff trying their best to avoid moving into the new building. Once the building has been handed over, they are trying to get in there first! They’re warmer, cleaner, bright and airy. From a teaching perspective, it’s a considerable improvement on a lot of the accommodation the teachers are currently working in.”

Constructing buildings offsite, in a controlled environment, means that a building can be made water-tight and weather resistant with quality controls ongoing throughout the build. Modern modular buildings are simple to maintain, are well insulated and achieve high EPC ratings – and green technologies can be easily incorporated into the design to further support their eco credentials.

Chris Hart says that the feedback on Wernick’s projects has been overwhelmingly positive, adding: “Using factory construction, we can build faster, to higher standards, and at any time of the year. There are also environmental benefits with reduced waste and less emissions. In modular construction we can really meet a lot of the requirements in the education sector – that’s why we think it’s a perfect match.”

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Government departments are pouring over technical data and preparing new directives, trade bodies are examining every aspect of potential market implications. No, this is not another missive on Brexit, but the reality of the changing world concerning Fire Doors and related risk critical products. Change is in the air and everyone should be aware of the urgent need to specify truly compliant products that play a significant role in the process of safety.

Following the tragic events of the Grenfell disaster in 2017, a greater understanding began to emerge regarding the lack of a holistic approach to fire safety and the evident shortcomings of custom and practice, where the cheapest solution took precedence over properly certified and tested fire safe product solutions, such as fire doors and fire door assemblies.

The recently published document Building a Safer Future, commits the government to a programme of reform which includes:

  • The implementation of the Hackitt recommendations
  • Create a more effective regulatory and accountability framework
  • The introduction of clearer standards and guidance
  • A vision to create a culture change

The result of these actions will mean tougher sanctions for those who disregard residents’ safety, and more rigorous standards. In fact the Government has committed to carrying out a full technical review of Approved Document B. This will propose potential changes to a range of technical issues within the current Approved Document.

While we all await the inevitable changes to legislation and good practice, it is encouraging to learn that Dame Judith Hackitt’s independent recommendations will form a cornerstone of the changes to come. Shaping future product specification, installation and ongoing use throughout the life cycle of buildings.

For specifiers struggling to evaluate fire door solutions in this changing world, especially in respect to residential high-rise and complex buildings. It is comforting to know that Vicaima fire performance products offer a benchmark to the industry, with exceptional test evidence and incorporating key elements of Hackitt’s recommendations that less enlightened manufacturers have yet to adopt. Third party accreditation is assured, as Vicaima adhere to not one but two nationally recognised and highly reputable bodies to verify the performance of our products, namely BWF-Certifire and BM TRADA Q-Mark. In each case traceability is always visible with the use of tamper evident labels and plastic plugs to provide clear understanding of fire rating and of course origin of manufacture. This simple but effective marking, alongside a detailed inkjet stamp system to identify exact date of manufacture, enables Vicaima to establish complete control of our products throughout their lifecycle.

Of course the fire door in itself does not provide the complete solution, this can only be achieved with compatible and rigorously tested components, including the correct frame and ironmongery. This is why alongside fire doors, Vicaima also manufacture an extensive range of door kit solutions to create a complete, fully tested assembly via our Easi-Fit and Portaro brands. These products provide complete peace of mind, with a full scope of performance characteristics for current and future housing specifications, namely:

  • Fire Tested to BS 476 Part 22 and BS EN 1634-1:2014
  • Secure by Design approved products
  • Acoustic performance, both inherent and additional as required
  • FD30 and FD60 rated, plus smoke seals to FD30s and FD60s
  • Durability with DD171 and EN 1192 severe duty rating
  • Mobility provision via glazing and dimensional flexibility
  • Environmentally robust (all products are FSC Certified)
  • Longevity with a 10 Year Guarantee

As specialist fire performance door manufacturers Vicaima have long understood the need to go above and beyond industry norms and simple compliance to provide cutting edge and safe solutions that are fit for today’s market. Vicaima has always prided itself on the construction of its fire doors, never cutting corners or compromising, regardless of whether it’s a humble painted door or a fashion conscious designer product. Performance and design go hand in hand at Vicaima with innovative designs options encompassing finish foil, veneer, laminates and paint lacquered surfaces; including cost effective products for demanding projects.

Whatever future regulatory changes lie in store for our industry you can be assured that Vicaima fire performance offers appropriate solutions and the first choice for a safer tomorrow.

For more information regarding Vicaima Fire and other performance solutions visit