How Shed KM, Urban Splash and Sekisui House approach modular residential construction


In May 2019 Urban Splash announced a £90m deal with Sekisui House, Japan’s largest housebuilder, which has a track record of using modern methods of construction, and the government’s housing delivery agency, Homes England.


Craning a first floor module into place 

Established in 1993, Urban Splash became known, and has won many awards for its successful regeneration of dilapidated buildings, largely for residential use. These have included Park Hill flats in Sheffield, Fort Dunlop in Birmingham and the Midland Hotel in Morecambe. Moho (2005), designed by architect ShedKM, was an early modular apartment scheme developed by Urban Splash in Castlefield, Manchester. ShedKM’s proposals developed the recommendations of the Egan Report, through the creation of 102 apartments with a mixture of sizes and types. The apartments were based on a factory-produced prefabricated residential unit with additional clip-on components.


A Town House receives its third storey

The scheme developed the prefabrication already used in mixed tenure housing, and transferred it to the private sector. Previously such units, their size dictated by the maximum transportable volume, had been orientated with limited frontage and deep plans. By rotating the units through 90 degrees, the window frontage could be maximised, and the base module extended.

Furthermore, by constructing an external framework, other prefabricated components including terraces, dining pods and balustrades could be affixed; supplementing the accommodation provided by the base modules and providing the elevation with a layered appearance.

Town Houses at Irwell Riverside, Salford, Greater Manchester

Town House was a new concept for mass housing that challenged the established typologies of the major UK housebuilders. It uses clever modular planning to create spacious, flexible, modern and sustainable customer-designed homes.

ShedKM took the pitched-roof form and turned it longitudinally to create a long spacious home, like a Dutch canal house, that is aimed at urban house-buyers. Purchasers have a choice of two- or three-storey houses and the option of ‘loft’ or garden-focused living spaces, with open plan or more traditional layouts. The shell contains a stair, a kitchen and bathroom pod. A series of layouts can be selected which are tailored to provide one- to six-bedroom homes. Windows are large and insulation levels and airtightness are to a high standard.

Town Houses at Irwell Riverside

Customer choice is the driving concept behind Town House. The challenge was to develop a design that could offer purchasers a choice of sizes, of living spaces and of layouts – as well as different kitchen, bathroom and finishes options – allowing customers to tailor their new home to their individual tastes from over 130,000 possible combinations. This is achieved through a rigorous organisation of the plan, with fixed zones for circulation and services and a defining logic governing possible locations of internal walls to generate a series of standard room sizes. These fixed parameters allow a wide range of layout options within a standardised shell.

Purchasers can also choose to fit out the shell themselves. Town House is factory-built to order, before being delivered to site virtually fully finished.


A potential arrangement for a Town House kitchen area

The first 43 Town Houses were launched at New Islington in 2016, their specifications dictated by their customers. Within a year they had sold, completed and were fully occupied. The second site was Irwell Riverside in Manchester, followed by Smith’s Dock in North Shields and Port Loop in Birmingham.

Four years of research and prototyping went into developing the Town House product, but it continues to be subject to a process of research and development, evolving through improvements in performance, fabrication, external appearance and the range of available customer options. Earlier modules were wholly prefabricated but are now clad on site for added precision. Kitchens are also installed on site.

Town Houses at Smith’s Dock, North Shields

Fab House, which stands for ‘factory-built, affordable and beautiful’, is a special edition of House for Smith’s Dock in North Shields, designed by the architect George Clarke.


CGI of the first Mansion House apartments, which will sit adjacent to the New Islington Marina and the completed Town House development in Manchester

Mansion House is conceived to imitate the Victorian or Edwardian mansion blocks where a small group of spacious apartments shares an entrance. The flats are fabricated from sustainable cross-laminated timber in a factory in Bilbao, in Spain, close to the forest where the Radiata Pine that forms the walls and ceilings is grown.


CGI of a Mansion House apartment interior. The modules are fabricated in Spain using CLT from locally sourced, sustainably grown Pine trees.

In 2018 Urban Splash acquired the SIG modular factory. The purchase ensured the business could control production of its houses, with capacity to create 400 per year: a testament to the company’s belief in the benefits of modular and modern methods of construction.


Town House modules in production at Urban Splash’s factory.

Sekisui House brings the resources of its own research centres. Its Comprehensive Housing R&D Institute opened in 1990 on a site that covers 7000 square metres. It consists of a research and development centre for the development of architectural technologies, the evaluation of housing performance, and the exploration of new ways of living, together with the Nattoku Kobo Studio, or Home Amenities Experience Studio, where housing ideals are examined with input from residents.

It performs tests on both the seismic performance of structures and the durability of construction materials, in order to check the basic performance of its housing products, and it uses the test results to further enhance its properties.


Urban Splash purchased its own factory for modular building production from SIG in 2018

The company’s scope extends to the development of proprietary systems such as Airkis, designed to benefit children’s health with high-quality indoor air, and the ‘Gururin Dannetsu’ high-efficiency thermal insulation system.

Sekisui House delivered 44,000 homes in 2018. Its investment in House brings £22m of new equity, together with £35m from Urban Splash and £30m of equity and debt funding from Homes England. Sekisui House will own a 35 per cent stake in the business, Urban Splash will hold 55 per cent, and Noel McKee, owner of We Buy Any Car, and Homes England will each own five per cent.