Offsite revolution for schools – as government backs open source design app

Use of modern methods of construction in the education sector has potentially taken a major step forward with the launch of a standardised structural frame and open source design app for building primary schools offsite.

The innovative approach to the way primary schools are designed, procured and built comes from the Seismic Consortium, a group created by construction consultant Blacc, the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC), technology-led design practice Bryden Wood and two leading offsite manufacturers, Elliott and the McAvoy Group.

Funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund and Innovate UK, and encouraged by the Department for Education, which has given the green light to a wave of offsite schools, the consortium has collaborated in carrying out extensive research and development into the increased use of standardisation to drive down costs, reduce lead times and radically improve productivity in the delivery of primary schools.

Seismic also believes that the framing system has the potential to reduce carbon emissions for a typical 40-module school by 25%.


Launched alongside the standardised system is an open source app for the design of primary schools which Seismic says will allow “the full spectrum of community to get involved in the design of primary schools”.

The aim of the app is to enable architects, planners and manufacturers to work with teaching professionals, school governors, parents and pupils to configure a primary school building that will precisely meet their user needs on a specific site in full compliance with Department for Education and all regulatory requirements.

Seismic believes the tool will significantly reduce the time and cost of the initial feasibility and design phases from weeks to minutes and will “democratise” the input of stakeholders by including them in the process.

Sam Stacey, challenge director – Transforming Construction, at UKRI, commented: “The Seismic project is a powerful example that the targets set out in the Construction 2025 Strategy are achievable.

“The project partners have demonstrated an unprecedented level of collaboration which we hope will inspire other forward-thinking projects to help innovate in construction and produce more efficient, sustainable and affordable buildings.

“The focus of Seismic was to realise the government’s ambition for greater productivity in construction and this has definitely been achieved with the offsite and digital solutions developed by the team. We are in no doubt that these innovations have the potential to change the way primary school projects are designed, procured and constructed, helping to meet the rising demand for school places and increase capacity in the construction industry.

“The commitment, investment and R&D capabilities of each of the project partners has been very impressive and we are already realising the benefits in new Department for Education procurement frameworks. Seismic has shown how construction can be transformed and how by working together as an industry, even greater progress and innovation can be accomplished.”

Seismic says its universal connection solution and a standardised structural frame for school buildings built offsite significantly reduces components and removes the need for welded joints, reducing labour costs and improving efficiency in a production environment.

Research carried out by the consortium has demonstrated that by rationalising the design of the steel structure, the amount of steel used in an average primary school built offsite can be reduced by 25%. This generates a cost saving of up to 25% for the modular steel structure and carbon emissions for a typical 40-module school are 25% lower – equivalent to over 155,000 miles of car driving or 17 flights from London to Sydney.

Seismic is now finalising testing for the new framing solution and is collaborating with steel fabricators to develop the standardised components and establish a supply chain with a view to making these available to the offsite market in the coming months. This will aggregate demand and allow significant economies of scale to drive down costs.

The consortium has aspirations to apply the same manufacturing principles to “componentise” other parts of a building to be able to offer a whole school solution, including walls and roofs. It also aims to develop a “product family” for different types of buildings, such as housing and healthcare, saying this should act as a catalyst for “revolutionising the wider construction industry”.

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  1. This concept is similar to the 1970s California Schools System, SCSD. That created standard interface solutions for frames, cladding, services and fitout which enabled multiple suppliers to provide products which fitted together. Buyers could procure whichever element was best value for them, to make a school. During the rapid growth of California population in the 70s this worked well. The concept was created by State Architect Peter Calthorpe.

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