Learning Center

June 17, 2019

A Brief History of Modular Construction

Modular construction evolved as an efficient building method via historical demands, ranging from housing crunches to war, and remains a popular approach.


Modular construction may seem like a new building method, yet it's actually been around for nearly two centuries. This process of constructing structures off-site, then transporting and assembling them in half the time as traditional techniques, has undergone an extraordinary transformation since the 1830s, and blossomed into one of today's leading approaches.

How exactly did modular construction begin?

This useful timeline outlines significant benchmarks in the evolution of modular construction, from its revolutionary beginnings to modern-day applications:


The first documented prefabricated home was created by London carpenter John Manning for his son, who was moving from England to Australia. Manning built a prefabricated house in pieces, then shipped it to the Land Down Under for easy assembly.


Modular construction made its way to the United States in response to the housing needs of the California Gold Rush.


The "Crystal Palace" was built for Britain's Great Exhibition, and remains one of the most famous examples of early modular construction. Designed in less than two weeks, it utilized light and inexpensive materials such as iron, wood and glass, and was constructed in only a few months. Afterward, the palace was dismantled, moved, and rebuilt at another location.


Augustine Taylor, a builder in Chicago, devised the balloon-frame method, enabling walls to be built off-site, then transported to the intended construction site, for speedy assembly.

The Rise of Catalog Houses

Between 1908 and 1940, Sears Roebuck and Co. sold more than 500,000 prefab homes through its catalog, straight to consumers. At the time, these houses cost less than two-thirds of conventionally built homes, and many still exist throughout the United States

WWII Housing Boom

Prefab structures continued into World War Two, to meet the growing demand for mass accommodations for military personnel. So-called "Quonset Huts," or "Nissen Huts" in the U.K., comprised of corrugated steel, were introduced for domestic, military, and institutional uses.

Following the war, as soldiers began returning home, the United States experienced a severe housing shortage, and once again turned to prefab homes for efficiency, reduced costs and quick construction. Postwar Europe and Japan also utilized the prefab process in response to their own housing and rebuilding demands.

Modularization Today

Countries around the world have enlisted prefab and modular construction methods for decades. Eighty-four percent of all detached homes in Sweden are prefabricated, for example, compared to 5% in the United States, 9% in Germany, 20% in the Netherlands, and 28% in Japan.

Since its introduction stateside, the approach has undergone significant technological innovations, including advances in associated software, automation and building information modeling. All of this, plus new processes and materials, have made it possible to prefabricate and deliver more sophisticated, complex, and aesthetically pleasing buildings than ever before.

As demand began to exceed the supply of existing buildings in the 1970s, commercial applications arose, with additional breakthroughs throughout the 2000s.

Today, prefabrication and modularization are utilized in the construction of hotels, apartment buildings, offices, hospitals, and schools in every major U.S. city, with 49% of healthcare facilities, 42% of college buildings and dorms, and 42% of manufacturing buildings using some form of modular construction.

What Next?

Modular construction is only gaining in popularity—here in the United States and globally—with more and more builders and developers recognizing its convenience, productivity and cost-effectiveness.


Contact Deluxe Modular today to learn about how modular construction can revolutionize your next building project.

Topics: Modular Construction

Read Next: The Ultimate Guide to Modular Construction

This guide is intended to help you sort through the confusion, give you an in-depth understanding of the modular construction process, its benefits and challenges, and help you determine if modular construction is right for you.


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