PPVC Construction, the dawn of a new era

18 June 2020
Prefabricated Pre-finished Volumetric Construction (PPVC) is considered the next step in modular construction for the Middle East region.
 Senja Polyclinic, Singapore

Senja Polyclinic, Singapore


Brian Sweeney

Brian Sweeney

Head of Projects - Buildings, Middle East
T: +971 4 334 3616

Modular construction is not new to the Middle East market and can be seen in use in many of the buildings constructed today, primarily in the form of off-site manufactured systems utilising either precast concrete or steel frame systems. The use of prefabricated building components is also a feature of many projects in today’s market.

The construction industry can be slow in implementing changes to tried and tested ways of working when compared to other industries, for example, the automotive industry. Currently, less than 1% of buildings are built using PPVC construction, but we view its introduction to the Middle East market as the dawn of a new era in construction in the region. In recent years, we have seen the market for modular construction evolve in different regions from its initial introduction to serve the hotel/student accommodation market and then moving into the residential and healthcare markets.

Modular construction methods

Ramboll has been heavily involved in the development of the PPVC industry in Singapore, a front runner in the PPVC global market, over the last few years and in this time have been developing, in conjunction with local and international partners, different typologies for PVC systems. The systems can be developed using steel, a hybrid of steel and concrete or a system which integrates different materials, i.e. steel, concrete and timber to find the optimum solution. Material selection depends upon many factors such as level of flexibility required, transportation allowances and cranage capacity.

There are existing projects in the region where PPVC has been used, but its use is limited to buildings with a maximum of two to three floors. Ramboll differentiates itself through our experience in the design of medium to high-rise PPVC projects. There are numerous examples of such projects in our portfolio, particularly in South East Asia.

Projects involving modular construction

Ramboll is currently involved in some very exciting projects across the world including, the United Kingdom, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and most recently here in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). We work closely with some of the world’s most innovative manufacturers to develop new prefabrication methodologies and systems. This includes high-rise steel and concrete PPVC for healthcare, student accommodation and residential with leading suppliers like iMax Modular or bespoke ultra-light-weight systems for the niche applications with Lightrus.

Modular construction and the adoption of off-site manufacture for on-site assembly is a key part of the global construction productivity agenda. While modular construction has been adopted in Europe, Asia and the United States, this typology of construction technology is relatively new to the Middle East.

Shorter timelines

There is no doubt that PPVC offers construction time savings. The erection process is greatly simplified with the majority of the work having been completed in the factory prior to being transported to the site. This is not just limited to the structural works. The MEP and fit-out works can also be largely completed prior to erection. 

Ramboll prides itself on being a market leader in the field of sustainability and so it is no surprise that the sustainability advantages which modular construction can offer over its conventional counterpart make it a key focus area for our company. Modular construction, and in particular PPVC, offers benefits on a range of fronts, including reduced waste, reduced transportation, reduced labour, better energy performance due to improved quality of construction, reduced cost and time and the possibility of wholly or partially re-using the modules. The social impact of PPVC can also not be underestimated as it is ideally suited to low-cost housing developments.

Ramboll previously carried out a case study for a project in the UK to compare the greenhouse gas emissions between conventional construction and modular construction. The study showed that modular construction can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 30% and an eventual ‘carbon dioxide payback’ for the whole project was expected in under 12 years.

Cost of Construction

Ramboll has been working together alongside other key partners over several years in Singapore to understand the business case for PPVC construction fully. One of the challenges that PPVC faces is that the upfront capital cost of construction is in fact higher, especially when first introduced to the market, than conventional construction. This can make it unattractive to some developers. However, this does not consider the shortened time frame, the sustainable benefits and the socio-economic impact of diverging from a low skilled migrant workforce to a highly-skilled local workforce. The initial cost premium can range from 20-25%, but as the market and supply chain develops (encouraged by Government incentive schemes in the case of Singapore), this premium drops to 10-12% and is continuing to fall.

Modular Construction during COVID-19 crisis 

COVID-19 has had a profound impact on how businesses are run. One of the main impacts has been the need to drastically reduce the need for large numbers of workers to be working in close proximity with one another. Consequently, the opportunity for PPVC is clear as the ‘norm’ shifts from dependence on large numbers of low skilled workers in a relatively uncontrolled environment to a small number of skilled workers working in a controlled factory environment.

Benefits of Modular Construction

The benefits that modular construction can offer are simply too great to ignore any longer. The UAE in particular, well renowned for being a forward-thinking nation, is ready for such a shift in construction methodologies and the aspects of modular construction, including; it’s long term economic advantages, it’s environmental benefits, it’s non-reliance on high volumes of low skilled labour and it’s suitability for affordable housing align it very well with the visions for the future outlined by the different Emirates within the UAE.


First Floor, Emerald Building
Oud Metha Road
PO Box 116921, Dubai, UAE
Tel:+971 4 334 3616
Fax:+971 4 334 3617

Mail: info@ramboll.ae

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