Header Tribune Sebastien Matty
And tomorrow ?

Tomorrow, everything off-site


On its 20th anniversary and its 200th issue, Business Immo is publishing the 20 real estate trends for tomorrow. Read the piece by Sébastien Matty, Chairman of GA Smart Building, entitled “Tomorrow, Everything off-site!”

We need to look at the way we build and renovate the city, due to the current crisis in the real estate and construction sectors, and the many challenges facing us. The time has come in our sector for the industrial revolution and off-site construction is a must-have solution.

“I have a dream…

I dream of changing the world… changing the way we build it every day.

And the period we are in could give us the opportunity to do this.

Massive rise in interest rates. Increased cost of raw materials. Huge increase in protests against projects of any kind. The current crisis, affecting the real estate and construction sectors, is brutal. We would like to say that it is unprecedented, but that isn’t really the case.

And although it is primarily affecting us, the industry professionals, its consequences are actually being felt in all areas of society. Because thousands of jobs are at stake, because it affects our homes, our offices, and above all, because it determines the France of the future.

History is repeating itself yet again, but the gap is widening between our sector and the legitimate expectations of a changing society. Over the past fifty years, our lives have changed out of all recognition. We have seen the arrival of connected cars, artificial intelligence that is directly impacting us, service efficiency that delivers the world to our doors in less than 24 hours, not to mention the glaring climate emergency that is calling for a transformation of all models.

Yet we are still building today as we did in Roman times.

There is no point in seeking aid from a State which does not have the means to provide it. We need to find solutions to transform a model which is on its last legs.

And I truly believe that the current context is an opportunity for our sector. We have a chance to start a revolution that is long overdue.

That’s the good news – there is a way. So that, in 20 years’ time, the real estate and construction sector can continue, as today, to bring millions of homes to life. So that it can preserve French know-how, while improving the building stock. So that in the future it has a lower impact on our country’s carbon footprint.

This will be possible due to its industrial revolution.

Tomorrow, we will be building and renovating “off-site”, in factories. All components of a building will be digitally designed, produced in factories throughout France, and then transported to be assembled “on-site”. And there are huge benefits to be gained from this revolution in the way we work.

This industrial revolution will first and foremost be an ecological revolution, which will scale up the use of more eco-friendly materials, such as wood or low-carbon concrete. Subject to industrial quality standards, off-site production will be more precise than “on-site” production, which depends on the many associated trades on the site. We are already seeing this – when we plan for each step in the controlled environment of a factory, we reduce the volume of waste, materials and water. Less time is spent on building sites, meaning less dust and fewer trips by lorries.

Trades will be able to evolve. The focus will no longer be on shifting bags of cement, but on supervising and managing sophisticated assembly lines. Mechanics will decrease the burden and the face of the trades will evolve to become feminised with higher levels of qualifications.

An economic revolution will then follow this industrial revolution. When adopted on a large scale, “off-site” will reduce the costs of construction and renovation. Innovations will be introduced and taken up much faster as they will be concentrated in off-site production units and not on the hundreds of thousands of fragmented construction sites. The impact on housing production will be considerable. This will promote access to housing and defuse the “social time-bomb” that is the housing crisis in France.

But all this is for tomorrow. Today off-site production is in its embryonic stage and represents less than 1% of the construction market in France. The benefits will be felt when it is adopted on a large scale.

Faced with the new economic constraints, necessity is the mother of invention. An association, headed by Stephan de Fäy, the boss of Grand Paris Aménagement (GPA), has been formed to progress this method of building. The public authorities have set ambitious objectives for the next three years. The National Council of the Order of Architects has joined forces with it.

The entire profession can and must join the movement. It is a question of collectively defining the standards that will apply, planning design capabilities, coordinating industrial investments. Looking beyond competition, it is a question of building a sector of excellence, based on common foundations.

This sector will excel in beauty. Contrary to popular belief, it is perfectly possible for precision and higher volumes to go hand in hand with beauty. Off-site construction or renovation allows creators to play a key role. Architects and designers come onboard with projects at a very early stage, taking on the idea of producing models of buildings that can be mass produced. An ambition underpinned by a dual logic. Economic, due to the focus on deploying solutions on a large scale. Social, as quality products can be offered to as many people as possible.

It is this dual logic that has created the beauty of Paris. Haussmann buildings are 90% standardised. The Wallace fountains and the Morris columns, considered worldwide as the emblems of Parisian aesthetics, were manufactured in a factory, at the time of the second industrial revolution. Gaudi, Guimard, Le Corbusier thought of their works – buildings and furniture – as being able to be mass produced.

Many off-site projects have already applied this logic. I am thinking in particular of a project of 60 wooden dwellings, that we are delivering alongside GPA conducted under the aegis of the Architects of the Buildings of France, from the perspective of the Château de Versailles. It shows just what off-site construction can do.

We are at a tipping point. We have an exceptional opportunity to ensure the future for the leading French economic sector. To rethink our way of building and renovating, to switch to a new logic. An approach that involves broadening the reach of and standardising beauty. The current crises are encouraging us to move in this direction.

But nothing will happen without you. Elected officials, public or private leaders; investors, developers, users, project owners, project managers, architects and designers: you are at the forefront of this revolution. If we want a qualitative, ecological and accessible building stock tomorrow, we must work together today to bring about the real estate and construction industrial revolution.

And make this dream a reality.

It’s up to us.”

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