Time-lapsing modular builds

Modular building is an alternative method of construction involving prefabricated sections, or ‘modules’, that are produced at an off-site facility before being delivered to their intended location.

The BBC recently reported on a 57-storey skyscraper that was built in just 19 days on the outskirts of Changsha in southern China.

‘Mini Sky City’, as the tower is known, was assembled from thousands of factory-made steel modules which were slotted together, taking shape at an incredible rate of three storeys per day. The man behind this impressive construction is Zhang Yue, who argues that modular construction is undergoing a ‘revolution’ – a method that is not only fast but effective in terms of cost and low risk.

A time-lapse video showcases the build in just 90 seconds, shining a light on the speed at which each module is fitted into place. As this exemplifies, time-lapse is an effective photographic method for tracking any method of construction. For modular builds especially, regular interval photography captures each section being fitted carefully into place.

Modular narratives

Manufacturing modular buildings is an important business and is a method utilised across various sectors, including military-based developments.

Some of our previous work, for example, has involved capturing modular construction for Kier as they built residential units at military airbase RAF Lyneham, in Wiltshire. Part of a £121 million venture under the name ‘Hercules’, the scheme saw the creation of a new technical training college, including accommodations, purpose-built teaching facilities and a large outdoor training area.

One of our multiple camera systems was mobilised to document this major military development was installed at Caledonian Modular in Newark, Nottinghamshire. A remote facility manufacturing the units for the Lyneham site, we were able to capture this vital part of the construction piece by piece, before the modules took on their permanent form at the military base.


Through a combination of time-lapse and video, the above edit spotlights the level the full journey of the modules. The narrative also includes a detailed breakdown of each stage in this process, starting with the construction in Newark, followed by the delivery and eventual assembly of the modular units to the Lyneham site.

Precise work

Modular buildings can also be referred to as ‘precision built homes’, because of the rigorous work that is required at each stage of the process.

This method of construction is becoming an increasingly popular means of residential development in the UK – and in other parts of the world, as proven by Yue’s spectacular ‘Mini Sky City’.

As well as capturing the intricacies of this precision building, time-lapse also enables residential progress to be recorded and played back in a matter of minutes. This is the case with our capture of Adston and BHA Homes’ housing development in the county town of Duns, nestled just within the Scottish Borders.

Using a combination of time-lapse and video, our completed edit shows 62 houses erected in just 62 seconds. Similarly to the RAF Lyneham sequence, video footage is effective in showing the careful transportation of materials via road on to site, as well as showcasing the modules as completed housing units ready to be put on the market.

Effective and effecient

The growing popularity of this particular construction method could be attributed to its effectiveness but this does not simply refer to time and cost.

Many companies invest in this kind of work as part of environmental efforts to become more energy efficient. Such is the case for Weatherite, who provide leading cooling solutions to companies across the UK.

Complex manoeuvres involved in transporting one of Weatherite's modular bio-fuel plant rooms in Chipping Sodbury.
Above: complex manoeuvres involved in transporting a Weatherite modular bio-fuel plant room to Chipping Sodbury.

We were commissioned by Weatherite to capture the construction and installation of one of their modular bio-fuel cooling plant rooms for the Chipping Sodbury branch of British supermarket chain, Waitrose. Both long-term and short-term time-lapse and video was needed to document each phase of this process, which ultimately resulted in the enhanced biodiversity of the store and its surrounding area.

Time-lapse helps emphasise the complicated manoeuvres necessary to move the module plant room once it had been meticulously built by numerous skilled hands.


Indeed, time-lapse construction is a developing genre and modular builds are just one method that lends itself well to regular interval photography. Whether long-term or short-term in duration, the work involved is fascinating to watch and provides an alternative to more traditional construction narratives.

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