Loughborough University
Thesis-2017-Robinson.pdf (7.44 MB)
Download file

ISBU modular construction and building design prototypes

Download (7.44 MB)
posted on 2017-11-17, 09:56 authored by Adrian C. Robinson
With the use of industrialised construction increasing, Buro Happold (BH) commissioned this research as part of on-going initiatives to address the lack of efficiency in design and construction. The research considers two major case studies where modularisation has been used to minimise complexity and increase standardisation. Referred to in this thesis as construction product prototypes and building design prototypes , the two studies examine firstly the product development of an Intermodal Steel Building Unit (ISBU) used in multi-storey construction and secondly a modular station pre-design used and repeated on four station buildings. The ISBU is based on a standard ISO dry-freight container and its use in modular construction maximises the use of factory based off-site methods (OSM); this should improve consistency of product outcome with minimised impact on site. Very little academic work has been published on ISBU modular construction. The research therefore looks in detail at the process of ISBU modular product development and its engineering performance. It also compares production and procurement of the units on supplier-driven accommodation buildings in comparison to similar but non-modular client-led projects. Using multiple stages of project team interviews and project document analysis, the research data is coded, measured and analysed to describe the processes of product and design prototyping. The research demonstrates that the ISBU product was developed and refined through several major building projects and has reasonable engineering performance characteristics but may be more suited to temporary buildings. The principle of modular pre-designs as found in stations has benefits for rationalising the design process and simplifying and internalising complexities of construction. The research considers solutions for problems that are ill defined and a design process that is difficult to assimilate. This part of the research uses models for framing and problem/solution co-evolution to solve problems of ill definition and linear/non-linear design processes by building on Gero s (1990) design prototyping theory model. Modularisation of the station designs was successful in reducing design effort and allowed a repeatable pre-design to be refined, but the design team struggled with the bespoke nature of the project designs. The comparison of case study data to models for manufacturing, procurement and design prototype development has led to a better understanding as to how these designs were achieved and how these same approaches could be applied in future.


EPSRC. Buro Happold Engineers.



  • Architecture, Building and Civil Engineering

Research Unit

  • Centre for Innovative and Collaborative Engineering (CICE)


© Adrian Robinson

Publisher statement

This work is made available according to the conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) licence. Full details of this licence are available at: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/

Publication date



A Thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of the degree Doctor of Engineering (Eng.D.) at Loughborough University.


  • en

Qualification name

  • EngD

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Usage metrics


No categories selected