Abstract: The UK construction sector is facing multiple challenges associated with low productivity, unreliable project delivery, poor performance, skilled labour shortages, and resource inefficiency. To address these challenges the UK Government and the construction industry have been promoting modular construction; a method that can improve efficiency and productivity in the construction sector via the prefabrication of volumetric elements or structural components of a building off-site and their assembly on-site. In this study we highlight that while modular construction can help deliver sustainability credentials in the entire construction value chain, at present the sector's activities are concentrated on using modular construction to improve resource efficiency upstream of the construction value chain, i.e. at the design, manufacture and construction. This appears to be divorced from the need to promote resource efficiency and productivity at the stages occurring downstream (i.e., disassembly and end-of-life management) of the construction value chain. Such divergence could hamper construction industry's efforts to reduce its environmental and economic impacts in the future, and points to the need of an integrated, holistic approach to improving the sustainability of the sector. To support our argument, we provide an overview of the current state of modular construction in the UK, and outline key obstacles in rolling out modular construction's mainstream use. We posit that modular construction presents an opportunity to integrate upstream with downstream construction practices and achieve sustainability in the entire construction sector, and suggest that the development of a digitally enabled modular construction, whereby smart technologies are combined with modular construction, could be instrumental in supporting this vision. A smart, modular construction regime can operationalise the collection and storage of components' lifecycle information, and help the sector build the capabilities needed to support the maintenance, recovery and reuse of modular components, and reduction of waste. For this to take precedence it is imperative to think of the ‘end’ right at the beginning of the design stage, and foster an improved collaboration between all stakeholders involved in the construction value chain.
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