Loughborough University
Leicestershire, UK
LE11 3TU
+44 (0)1509 222222
Loughborough University

Centre for Innovative and Collaborative Construction Engineering


Domenico Cecini

Project Title

A Novel Precast Structural System for Modular Housing


Solid Space Development Ltd


Professor Simon Austin
Dr Alessandro Palmeri

Mr Roger Zogolovitch

Director of Research:
Professor Stephen Ison

Research Period

2012 - 2016


A Novel Precast Structural System for Modular Housing

Company Background

Solidspace Ltd is a company established to provide new forms of housing and has designed an innovative modular system for single and multiple homes. After working with different traditional and off site precast concrete structures we have decided that we require a bespoke structural system to meet the ambition for efficient delivery and improved productivity for the expansion of our housing system.

The system should be off site manufactured. Transportable from factory to site and for each component to weigh approx 50kg to permit manhandling. These elements should be connected together to make the load-bearing structure.  They should include insulation, finishes, services, and permit the introduction of different external skins. It must be cost effective. The components should be able to be used without cutting or wastage.

The system has been conceived to be particularly attractive to ‘self-builders’ and their level of expertise, and the need for appropriate quality control, are therefore fundamental to the research.

Solidspace buildings to date have attracted substantial press comment and awards, including RIBA, Civic Trust, Fundacio Mies Van Der Rohe, and the Amercan Institute of Architecture.

 Current state-of-the-art

The Solidspace housing concept in aimed at achieving the integration of spaces with different volumes, so to create a new set of spaces named  ‘eat live work’. It will be an open system for use and adoption by collaborating architects and developers. The design principles and the construction methodology will encourage variety and flexibility.

The whole idea of the Solidspace system build (SSB) is that manufacturing a system out of small and portable components is more appropriate for the development of off -site housing. To assemble the whole structure a post tensioning system is proposed, and the research will examine how existing technology can be downsized to be appropriate for simple single and multiple housing projects.

Solidspace System Build (SSB) is different to existing precast systems it seeks to miniaturise and make portable the precast components. Existing systems rely on the assembly of larger components of wall, floor and panel and linking between these elements for stability. The proposed SSB is using a single repetitive element that gains structural stability from site connections. SSB ‘eat live work’ requires an open space to satisfy the occupier post –tensioning will facilitate this flexible open space.

ICF has been very successful in its use within the housing market but it provides insulation in both an internal and external position and requires the introduction of in situ concrete to the effect that the insulation becomes permanent formwork. SSB adapts the principle by using ICF type insulation as permanent formwork but within a precast element that has insulation only on the external face with exposed concrete on its inner face.

SIPs use insulated composite timber based panels and compare with precast panels, they are not considered to provide any useful investigation that can satisfy the open space approach of the SSB ‘eat live work’ principle.

A number of different and innovative concretes mixes are currently available to reduce the Portland cement content. The suitability of different materials for the construction system under investigation, however, needs be assessed, taking into account the structural efficiency (particularly the strength-to-weight ratio), cost and low carbon emission performance. There is thus a need to study, and compare the performance of, various materials options, such as cement replacements (eg geopolymers) and recycled aggregates. The methods of manufacture and assembly are also critical and hence it is important to evaluate different manufacturing possibilities such as extrusion and innovative forms of casting.

Aim and Objectives

The aim of the project is to develop and test selected prototype structural components suitable to meet the parameters of the Solidspace housing typology. The structural elements will need to have strength and lightness to enable them to be portable.

The objectives of the research are to:

Investigate potential structural materials, fixing systems, manufacturing and assembly techniques for the Solidspace system build (SSB), with an emphasis on sustainability (low carbon and material consumption).

Assist SolidSpace Ltd in their development of the conceptual design of the SSB and associated real and/or virtual models, based upon promising structural solutions identified in (1).

Support the structural design and manufacture of prototype components identified in (1 & 2) that can be made efficiently off site and be used to assemble the load-bearing frame for the SSB.

Contribute to the long-term company goal of an innovative product whose design, material technologies and manufacturing techniques enable easy transportation to site and simple assembly on site, whilst also providing the necessary structural functions and facilitating the architectural requirements.

Proposed Research Methods

The method of the research is to be discussed and agreed between the company and the University supervisors. It may include:

1. Desk Study

Initial research into existing systems and components:

Investigate potential manufacturing processes and connection methods to create the structural components of the system.Examine alternative cement based materials that combine strength, sustainability, fire resistance, acoustic performance, reduced weight and increased thermal performance, in comparison to standard concrete.Explore the proposed shape of the components to achieve the strength, flexibility of assembly and lightness to meet the design aspirations of the Solidspace approach.

2. Modelling

The research will investigate and apply appropriate methods of modelling, whether with small-scale physical models of the kit-of-parts, or using virtual 3D software. Their use by practitioners, and possibly students, will be explored and the implications for the design of the kit, and in particular the number of variants, identified.

3. Analysis and Design

The analysis of the system will investigate the structural possibilities of miniaturisation of ‘post tensioning’ connecting portable components together. The analysis will aim to determine design rules for a safe and stable structure, also considering manufacturing and material choices for weight and strength. The suitability of non-standard analysis techniques, e.g. the Discrete Element Method (DEM) as opposite to the Finite Element Method (FEM) and continualisation strategies with gradient elasticity will be investigated as well. Design Assisted by Testing (as supported by the Eurocode) may be an appropriate strategy where existing accepted methods are inadequate.

4. Manufacturing technology

The processes and procedures for off-site manufacture and on-site assembly are critical to the success of the SSB. This part of the research will involve extensive dialogue with manufacturers and builders as well as scale and full-scale mock ups of structural operations.

5. Laboratory and field evaluation

The research will support the building and testing of prototypes of the proposed components and the types of connection for ‘post tensioning’ to fulfil the safe structural requirements. The evaluation will test through to failure to determine the requirements of the manufactured components. The selected material choices and the manufacturing methodology will be evaluated with scale and full size mock ups. 

Expected Benefits and Outcomes

The outcomes could include:

Contributing to the development of an innovative open system for housing that combines existing and new technologies.Design, laboratory testing and prototyping of a structural system and components for the SSB .Development of appropriate non-standard techniques for structural analysis and design of such systems.Submission of the designs of the finished components to design registry for registration or patent application.Recommendations for further research and commercial development of the method of manufacture, delivery and site assembly.

The Beneficiaries could include:

Researchers who will benefit from new knowledge regarding material choices, analytical techniques, fastening systems for the construction industry.Self-builders amongst the public who will benefit from the development and ultimately availability of a new and efficient, sustainable open system for single and multiple dwellings.Solidspace Ltd will benefit from undertaking an appropriate blend of basic and applied research necessary for their proposed housing solution.  It will also enhance their research understanding and capability for the future.The Research Engineer will develop a detailed understanding of, and ability to undertake, a variety of research methods and gain a deep knowledge of the subject area, in addition to a doctoral qualification.The School will benefit from: applying some of its existing knowledge to a novel product platform, as a result create new knowledge and understanding; disseminating the findings through high quality journals and conferences; and enhancing its reputation from the impact of the research and subsequent commercial exploitation.Government will benefit by the realisation of the research and the option that it offers to meet their ambitions for economic growth through expansion of the self-build housing sector in the UK




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+44 (0)1509 222623

The Centre Administrator
Loughborough University
LE11 3TU

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