As far back as 2000 years ago, Sinhalese Kings of ancient Sri Lanka were able to erect giant structures using prefabricated buildings technology, with some sections prepared separately and then fitted together. Perhaps Shakespeare pondered the question, to modular or not to modular, when he built The Globe in 1559? The entire Portugese town of Vila Real de Santo in the Algarve, was quickly erected in the late 18th century, using prefabricated materials. During the 19th century, Australia imported a large number of prefabricated houses from the United Kingdom and by the 20th century prefab housing became a quick and easy solution in Britain to providing temporary housing after the wide-scale destruction of cities during World War II bombing raids.
With “prefab” being an umbrella term that encompasses off site building, “modular” is a more modern term that implies a more concise method of construction, which can encompass the whole build or just a small component of it. For example, in the residential sector we may think of a fully constructed home, manufactured off-site and transported in whole or part and then finally integrated together with the site using traditional methods. Commercially, an example could be a fully finished hotel room that is transported to site and ‘stacked’ both vertically and horizontally to a medium or high-rise grade, with the balance of traditional works being completed around it.