Spotlights: First practical guide for fire safety verifications in modular construction

Campus GmbH

Academia, industry and policy makers jointly create a basis for the further development of system-relevant standards

The importance of modular construction is continuously increasing. Increasing population numbers and demographic changes require the swift and high-standard creation of living spaces, as well as healthcare, education and assisted living facilities. Building code requirements are essential components for the approval and licensing process to ensure the success of this type of construction using room modules, containers, and also former sea freight containers. One major issue in modular construction projects for principals, planners, manufacturers and authorities is the question of what structural engineering verifications – specifically with regards to fire safety – are required. As to date there has been no standard for all parties concerned regarding the properties, prerequisites and applicabilities of verifications, the result has been uncertainty and delays in project roadmaps, ultimately leading to higher costs. The consequence: The actual advantages of the room cell construction method over the conventional construction method, which in addition to ecological aspects lie in particular in a shorter project duration as well as in potentially lower project costs, do not come to bear.

Consortial projects for fire safety

BFT Cognos (Aachen, Germany), a surveyor and consulting firm operating throughout Germany and an enrolled member of the Center Building and Infrastructure Engineering on RWTH Aachen Campus, recognized the potential of an industrial and scientific consortium in modular construction. Georg Spennes, Managing Director of BFT Cognos, and Center Director Dr. Carl Richter spearheaded the project. After an initial meeting with a number of room cell manufacturers, eleven companies joined the initiative over time and formed a consortium, with all participants becoming enrolled members of the Center Building and Infrastructure Engineering: Algeco, ALHO, AMTRA, BFT Cognos, BOLLE, Cadolto, containerwerk, ELA, SÄBU, KLEUSBERG, ProContain, Zeppelin Rental. On the academic side, the Institute of Steel Construction at RWTH Aachen University is represented in the consortium by its Chair for Steel and Lightweight Metal Construction and the teaching and research area of Sustainable Metal Building Envelopes. The Ministry for Regional Identity, Communities and Local Government, Building and Gender Equality of the Land of North Rhine-Westphalia regarded the topic with the same level of relevance and became another consortial partner for the project.

Industry, academia and policy makers bundle their expertise

The consortium tackled the complex issues of fire safety substantiation in periodic work meetings and, within a year, produced the first practical guide to requirements for modular construction elements based on steel supporting structures. The guide includes

  • an introduction and definition of terminology and requirements,
  • the categorization of three room cell types: Type I (sea freight containers), Type II (steel frames free on the outside) and Type III (steel frames planked on the outside),
  • a list and assessment of the types of usability substantiation and applicability on national and European level, and
  • a visualization of alternative substantiation approaches based of the building code in force in the federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Current benefits

The practical guide offers principals, planners, manufacturers and government bodies a standardized rulebook. This collaboration has, however, resulted in additional benefits for the Aachen-based consortium as well:

  • Enrolled manufacturers can submit their queries directly on policy level.
  • Their direct involvement in the development of the guide allows them to respond to findings and effect their implementation much faster based on their advanced knowledge.
  • Based on this consortial project, the Institute of Steel Construction at RWTH was able to expand its teaching offering with the development of a new fire safety lecture for students in collaboration with the fire safety experts at BFT Cognos.

More to come: Construction features and technical standards

The practical guide is part of a multi-level strategy of the Center Building and Infrastructure Engineering and its members; phase 1 has now been completed with the publication of the guide. In phase 2, construction features for the three room cell types will be developed in a project with a one-year runtime. In this project, the challenges for the consortium include the development of multiple construction features for the enclosure of a room cell in an effort to specify a technical standard for fire safety. The complete room enclosure must be able to withstand fire to such an extent that smoke or flames cannot escape the individual module. In current test procedures, individual components of a room cell are burned to evaluate the behavior of room-enclosing materials. In phase 3, the final results for construction features will then be summarized in a guide for modular buildings.


Testimonials regarding the collaborative efforts for the practical guide

Testimonial Scharrenbach

MHKBG 2019 F.Berger CC-BY-SA 4.0

Testimonial Plum
Testimonial Loeber
Testimonial Vetter
Testimonial Feldmann
Testimonial Richter

The Center Building and Infrastructure Engineering (CBI)

The Center Building and Infrastructure Engineering (CBI) in the Construction Cluster took up its activities in early 2019 with ten enrolled companies. Today, 22 companies from various sectors of the construction industry are actively involved in the CBI. The CBI focuses on the development of application-optimized materials and tailor-made construction products and systems, as well as in the digital mapping of processes for construction engineering purposes. The mission of the CBI is to find ways for more efficient implementations of innovations and technology transfers in close collaboration with the industry, accelerating the process between the lab and the construction site.

The consortium

Your Contact

Dr. Carl Richter
Managing Director
Center Building and Infrastructure Engineering (CBI)
Phone: +49 (0)241 80-23650

Categorization of three room cell types


Typ 3 (steel frames planked on the outside) | ALHO Modulbau for VOLVO; Copyright: ALHO


Typ 3 (steel frames planked on the outside) | Administration building Regensburg | KLEUSBERG Modulares Bauen; Copyright: Rüdiger Mosler


Typ 2 (steel frames free on the outside) | Interim School Wiesbaden | KLEUSBERG Modulares Bauen; Copyright: Rüdiger Mosler

ALHO Holding GmbH

Typ 2 (steel frames free on the outside) | Site office München | ProContain; Copyright: ALHO Holding GmbH

Containerwerk/Stefan Hohloch

Typ 1 (sea freight containers) | Wertheim | Containerwerk; Copyright Stefan Hohloch