Pre-Fabrictated Construction

A possible future for Indian Homes

The remarkable shift from the third to fourth industrial revolution is evident in the predictions of World Economic Forum’s 2015 Report “Deep Shift”. While it becomes clear that the digital age is way out of its depth harping about Artificial Intelligence and space technology, there is still speculation regarding the Fifth Industrial Revolution.


Above: Study showing the Fifth Industrial Revolution traits to look out for.

In India, we are still grappling with mass production, with our traditional construction practices having been replaced with a sub-standard, ill executed by marginally poor labour in hard environment of in-situ framed architecture. This is increasingly seen as a drawback for informed designers who are taking up the challenge of working with pre-fabricated option for small to medium size residences. This is different from the norm of multi-level, industrial or infrastructure projects where pre-fab is seen as a viable option- both economical and aesthetic percepts.


Above: Study showing the Fifth Industrial Revolution traits to look out for.

Looking back at the Modern invention, popularized around 1950-60’s in the post war period, pre-fab was appreciated as the optimum option for rapid construction with limited machine aesthetics. From the Utopian ideas like Buckminter Fuller’s 1945 built "Dymaxion House" to Corbusier’s more practical “Domino” module, technology came to dictate the method of construction and the war caused frugal living to be more acceptable. In India, mass housing was initiated with India’s Independence in 1947, and the period saw a rise in the state induced industrial revolution circling around “concrete”. Many historians have quiet aptly questioned if India is still building in the ‘Modern’.

There are a few fundamental benefits of working with prefabricated homes, especially in the context of 21st century resource and climate crisis. Besides the well-known moderate costing and expedited construction timelines of pre-fab houses, there are a host of benefits which if implemented well can bring about a positive impact on society. The manufacture of most building components off-site means avoidance of exposure to bad weather conditions and associated ill effects for both the building and construction workers. Controlled manufacture ensures quality products with optimum strength, more efficient project timeline, reduced costing of propping and shuttering and more efficient architectural elements which can be designed to custom requirements. The acoustic efficiency of prefab structures is considerably better since the elements of walling and roofing do not conduct sound well.

The downside of this technology oriented construction system lies in its lower fire-resistance (as compared to brick or concrete construction units, boarding and paneling materials have shorter fire resistance time),limited options for sizes (since the design of the product is determined by individual units which are composed in modular fashion to avoid wastage) and sophistication of manufacturing necessary for a good end product. There is an additional sentiment in the Indian context- the mental roadblock of most clients who regard the notion of prefab as temporary and thus unfit for homes. The expectation of a homeowner can perhaps be deciphered from an illustration created by Chares Eames for the ‘Arts and Architecture’ July 1944 issue to depict the contents of his article “What is a House?”, co-written with John Entenza.


“What is a House?”, diagram by Charles Eames. Source: Home Delivery (p. 96)

In the midst of all this some of the Indian Design Studios are participating in what will be seen soon as the appropriate response to the sustainable challenge of adaptability, by using pre-fab construction for homes and farmhouses. Working with metal frame structure provides greater flexibility in terms of spatiality. The possibility of large volumes both horizontally and vertically becomes a reality.


Above: Study showing the Fifth Industrial Revolution traits to look out for.

The unselfconscious Case Study House no. 8 designed by Charles and Ray Eames, built in 1949 in California shows the internal volumes inside the metal and glass ‘house’ box. The other part of the structure was a studio. Source:

The timeline for construction being shorter allows for more time for finishing items and yet required fraction of the time necessary to build in-situ construction structures. The planning necessary to align all the processes and production eliminates scope for last minute hiccups owing to oversight during the planning process. The metal frame accommodates larger openings with ease thereby enabling ample visual connection with the surroundings.



RL Farmhouse in Delhi (2017),built with steel frame, glass and cement board cladding, designed by Spall Associates. The lighter foundation necessary for construction provides flexibility for the planning of interior spaces. Any site peculiarities including old trees, level differences can also be addressed more sensitively with minimal cost implications when building with pre-fab technology.



VB Farmhouse, Delhi (2018-19),steel and glass box adapted to the site conditions including two large old trees within the house by Spall Associates. Considering the need for adaptable architectural solutions for working and living in cities, the pre-fabricated construction seems like an ideal solution. Especially in Indian context, easy availability of a range of products and affordable specialized labour for execution due to the boom in industrial construction, makes this one of the more lucrative methods of building. We are embarking on a new era in housing, and it is not so much about planning but material technology. This promising idea seems here to stay for a while.

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