Experts confident prefab technology can address Nigeria’s staggering housing deficit

How long do you think it can take to finish building a 10-storey high-rise apartment? A month, months or years? Well, it depends on several factors but primarily funding, maybe.

While it may take months for high net worth individuals to complete such a project, it may take years under successive administrations to finish it in Nigeria if it’s a government project.

Should it be a government project, the contractor handling the project may even abandon it along the line as it is with several government projects scattered across states in the country.

However, believe it or not, a Chinese company called the Broad Group recently completed a 10-storey residential high rise in just 28 hours and 45 minutes. Yes, you read it well – a 10-storey apartment was completely built in just over a day.

The project is sited in Changsha, the capital of central China’s Hunan Province which has an estimated population of 10 million.

In time-lapse footage that the company shared on its website as well as social media handles, the high-rise building was constructed using Broad Group’s prefabricated construction system. (Prefabricated buildings are designed to be put together very quickly – and that’s a big part of why they are appealing.)

One of the most appealing things about this system is that each building module has the same dimensions as a shipping container when folded, making it easy to transport it pretty much anywhere in the world using existing shipping methods.

Each module is prefabricated in a factory and consists of a primarily stainless steel structure that includes wiring, insulation, glazing and ventilation systems (the Broad Group is also a ventilation specialist).

So, to put it simply, all you need is to take a group of these container-sized modules to a building site and stack them as required, bolting them into place. They are then connected to power and water, and ready to use.

For the building, the company’s pre-manufactured components, including the walls, kitchen, bath, and floors, were folded out to a span of 39.3 feet by 15.75 feet by 9 feet high and were then fit into a standard shipping container to be transported to the construction site where it was assembled.

According to the firm, its prefab setup is durable, earthquake-resistant, and can be dismantled and moved if needed. The firm says its prefab buildings can be used to make residential high-rises, dormitories, hotels, hospitals, and more.

Even more ambitiously, the firm reckons that the system could be used to build high rises as tall as 200 stories. To put this into perspective, the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, has 163 floors.

Apart from being able to withstand earthquakes that measure 9.0 on the Richter Scale, the company also says the building components carry a longer life span and recyclability, adding that the panels can last thousands of years and the building itself can be “disestablished” and moved or taken somewhere else.

The project reportedly cost ample manpower, at least three cranes, and a large number of builders on the site to get the structure standing.

Although the group didn’t give a word on pricing, Treehugger, a sustainability website, reports that one can buy an apartment block for around $3m (N1.2bn), excluding shipping. The company doesn’t think it’s expensive. Also, in comparison, the money that you can use to buy an entire 20-unit apartment building is less than the cost of a modest house in cities such as San Francisco, the United States, and Toronto, Canada.

Meanwhile, the Changsha project was not the first engineering feat achieved by the firm.

The company also hit the headlines in 2011 for the construction of a 15-storey Ark Hotel in Changsha in just 46.5 hours. A year earlier, the company used its innovative construction methods and environmental-friendly techniques to build the pavilion for the massive Shanghai World Expo.

With a huge housing deficit in Nigeria, experts agree that technologies such as the firm’s prefabricated buildings might help solve the housing challenge in the country.

According to a recent report by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Nigeria currently has a deficit of over 17 million houses, and this requires about 700,000 new houses to be built yearly, compared to the less than 100,000 houses that are being constructed yearly.

“Ironically, the cost of building a house in Nigeria is relatively higher while the average income level is relatively lower compared to the global average. This means even when there is a supply of housing units, the price tag, whether a self-built or off-the-shelf purchase, is out of the reach of the majority of Nigerian workers, thereby making affordable housing still a dream.

“Beyond access to finance, other major challenges facing the housing sector include poor government policies and bureaucratic regulations, unreliable data and lack of transparency, shortage of high-quality building materials, poor infrastructure, especially transportation, and shortage of skilled labour,” PwC states.

A professor of Building at the Department of Building Technology, Covenant University, Ota, Ogun State, Ishola Fagbenle, noted that prefabricated building technology was already being deployed in Nigeria – albeit not on a large scale.

He says, “Of course, the technology will address the housing deficit in Nigeria. The fact that they are prefab means everything had been built in the factory. All you need to do is to transport the components to the site and assemble them on the foundation that you’ve built.

“Normally, the columns are already on the site and you only do the internal components in the factory. Within a few days, you have a building set up.”

The don noted that some estates in cities such as Lagos and Port Harcourt were built of prefab. “It’s only that they don’t publicise them,” he added.

Fagbenle further said that prefab buildings were costlier because of the technology involved.

“It is costlier considering the technology involved and the time saved. Prefab buildings are very durable,” he stated, advising real estate developers and governments to consider increased use of prefab.

“In my inaugural lecture in June, I mentioned the need to make housing sustainable and affordable. We need to build as many houses as possible. If housing supply is more than demand, the excesses of some landlords will even reduce drastically in the country,” he noted.

Also, a building expert and professor of Project Management at the Faculty of Environmental Sciences, University of Lagos, Iroroakpo Idoro, stated that the housing deficit in Nigeria could be achieved by deploying prefab building technology.

He said, “The advantage of prefab components is that the assembly is fast instead of when you use concrete to build a house. There are prefab residential buildings in cities such as Lagos and Abuja. It’s possible to address the housing deficit in Nigeria using prefab building technology.

“Prefab buildings are sustainable but they must be well maintained. One of the main problems with prefab buildings is that there are no variations in their design unlike in concrete buildings.”

 On his part, a director at Echostone Development Nigeria Limited, a property development company, Sammy Adigun, said that prefabrication was the way to go to address housing challenges in Nigeria.

Adigun added that through the use of prefab housing technology, 53 per cent carbon saving for sustainability could be achieved, noting that prefab housing techniques were cheaper for mass housing in the long run.