News Home & Design These Customizable Modular Units Reduce Construction Costs and Waste Bao Living's prefabricated Smart Adaptive Module system is designed to make it easier and cheaper to create efficient spaces with a smaller footprint. By Kimberley Mok Kimberley Mok Twitter Writer McGill University Cornell University Kimberley Mok is a former architect who has been covering architecture and the arts for Treehugger since 2007. Learn about our editorial process Updated January 21, 2021 03:59PM EST Fact checked by Haley Mast Fact checked by Haley Mast LinkedIn Harvard University Extension School Haley Mast is a freelance writer, fact-checker, and small organic farmer in the Columbia River Gorge. She enjoys gardening, reporting on environmental topics, and spending her time outside snowboarding or foraging. Topics of expertise and interest include agriculture, conservation, ecology, and climate science. Learn about our fact checking process Bao Living Share Twitter Pinterest Email News Environment Business & Policy Science Animals Home & Design Current Events Treehugger Voices News Archive More than half of the world now lives in cities, and it's projected that two-thirds of the world's population will be living in urban areas by 2050. What this means is that cities will have to find creative ways to densify in a sustainable way, to ensure their resiliency in the future. With more people living in the same urban area, living spaces will necessarily become smaller, but it doesn't mean that they have to feel cramped. One possible solution to increasing urbanization is using smart modular design strategies, which can help make the building process more resource-efficient, and help maximize space too. Based out of Antwerp, Belgium, Bao Living is one start-up aiming to do just that. Founded by Benjamin Eysermans and Axel van der Donk back in 2017, the company manufactures Smart Adaptable Modules (SAMs), a series of modular units that bundles kitchen, bathroom and all utilities into various convertible cupboards, which can be configured in many different ways. In addition, heating, electricity, water, ventilation and home automation is contained into one "technical" module, making it simpler and cheaper to connect plumbing and electricity, with the company estimating that this modular approach can reduce the cost of installing utilities by up to 30 percent. We get a quick view of how the SAM works via Never Too Small: The SAM system consists of 35 different modular cabinets, which can be configured into many different layouts using computer software. Bao Living Built with a footprint of 269 square feet (25 square meters), the renovated micro-apartment in the above video is one example of how using the SAM modules can encourage a kind of "circular economy" in the construction industry, where layouts can be infinitely customizable, without having to rip out walls or flooring to install new pipes or wires in the future, if renovations are ever needed. For instance, the micro-apartment's entry includes the hidden SAM "technical" unit in the first cabinet, which contains the water heater and electrical panel. Never Too Small As the company says: "By concentrating all utilities in one central location, the SAM modules require fewer materials. Fewer pipes, fewer wires. All wood used for the modules is FSC certified, a guarantee that it is wood that is recycled or comes from sustainably managed forests. By concentrating the production of the modules in one factory environment, all materials can be recycled as much as possible again and there is hardly any waste." Never Too Small Following that, we have a large wardrobe-type cabinet for storing clothes. Separated from the entry corridor is the main living space, which features a transforming fold-down sofa-bed combo. Never Too Small During the day, it functions as a sofa, and during the night, one can easily fold down the bed for sleeping. Bao Living Right across from the bed, we have the entertainment center, and the pull-down table that can serve both as a dining table and a workspace. Behind the television set are the various outlets for power and Internet connectivity. Never Too Small The kitchen in this configuration is simple and compact: a two-burner stove and range hood, sink, and a small refrigerator and full-size dishwasher, hidden behind cabinet doors. Bao Living There's still space left over for a sizeable pantry and storage for dishes, utensils and more. Never Too Small Behind the door adjacent to the kitchen, we see that the bathroom is quite spacious too. Never Too Small Here we have the SAM modules for a pretty large shower, floating toilet, sink and vanity, plus a mirrored storage cabinet. Never Too Small As we can see, the idea here is to use lots of multifunctional, transformer furniture in a modular way, and to condense all the functions of an apartment into one area, therefore freeing up more living space. These are small space design strategies we've seen before, but Bao Living's goal is to apply the solution on a much larger, prefabricated scale – thus reducing construction waste, construction costs, and eventually helping to make housing more affordable overall, in addition to creating a more circular construction economy. As Eysermans explains: "[Another] aspect of sustainability, that we can’t forget with SAM, is the fact that the majority of the 'active' elements are decoupled from the 'passive' elements. This means that end-of-life disassembly or deconstruction is much less painful. The utilities are no longer built or ingrained into the structure of the building. This makes refurbishment or renovation much easier. This is highly important because lengthening the useful life of a structure is the most environmentally responsible way of getting the most out of the energy embedded in the construction materials." In addition to residential buildings, the SAM system can be implemented in offices or other commercial applications. Using modular design approaches like the SAM is one way to ensure that existing buildings can be retrofitted in various ways, since the greenest building is the one that's already standing. Overall, the SAM system is quite an innovative concept that will hopefully become more mainstream, in order to help our cities develop and grow in a more sustainable way. For more information, visit Bao Living. View Article Sources Ritchie, Hannah, and Max Roser. "Urbanization." Our World In Data, 2019.