Our feature article in this final newsletter of the 2019-20 academic year was written by Lucky Agung Pratama, the Southeast Asia Center’s graduate student assistant and a PhD Candidate in the College of Built Environments. With a background in Civil Engineering and Construction Management, his research mostly revolves around the visual representation of construction activities. This week, he analyzes the use of modular construction in facilitating a rapid response during the pandemic.
In response to COVID-19, the Chinese government quarantined the city of Wuhan and designated treatment facilities around the city earlier this year. They also did something extraordinary: they built hospitals that became operational in less than two weeks. It should be noted that they achieved this not solely due to the abundance of manpower. While the footage we saw in the news showed that the builders had access to so much manpower and construction equipment, there is another element that wasn’t shown. To be more specific, it is not shown on-site. The construction utilized a method called modular construction which enables the construction workers to build at such speed. It is extremely efficient in a time-constrained situation like the one faced by Wuhan.
We now look at Indonesia, where a similar method was adopted in two hospital constructions. The first site was built earlier in May. While it is nowhere close to the scale of Wuhan’s emergency hospital, it is quite remarkable that it was completed in roughly a month, including the planning phase, even though the contractor claimed to have built the hospital in 10 days (modular-wg.com). Based on the Presidential Regulation No. 52/2020, the government was directly involved in overseeing the construction and the project was funded by Indonesia’s State Budget. The site where the treatment facility is standing was a Vietnamese refugee camp in Galang Island, Batam. The hospital complex has 340 beds for patients under isolation and 20-bed isolation ward for intensive care. One of the biggest national general contractors is responsible for the whole construction under the supervision of Indonesia’s Ministry of Public Works and Housing.
The hospital complex is comprised of two-story units and the construction approach is similar to the one in Wuhan. Unlike conventional construction in which the buildings are erected onsite, modular construction utilizes off-site manufacturing for the building parts. The upside to this method is it enables mass production of similar building components at a much faster rate. These building parts such as columns and walls are then shipped to the construction site to be assembled quickly by the construction team. For this hospital facility, the majority of the modular units and medical equipment were shipped from Tanjung Priok, Jakarta.
The decision to build an emergency hospital in a place like Galang Island is quite questionable. It is considered a remote location, 25 miles south of Batam city. As part of Riau Archipelago in Indonesia, this location is the closest to Malaysia and Singapore. It is far from Jakarta, which was the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in Indonesia. The fastest way to get there from the capital is by taking a two-hour flight. Although the government intended to use it mainly for treating patients coming from Singapore and Malaysia, most of the Indonesians who work as foreign workers usually book a flight to Jakarta rather than taking a boat from Singapore to Batam (tirto.id).
Up until now the hospital has not worked at full capacity despite the increasing number of cases in Indonesia. Within a month, “only” 114 people had been treated there. There is still a possibility that more people will be treated there, as the government recently lifted the large-scale social restriction in some areas. The questionable site choice aside, we can still consider this project a successful attempt at building an emergency hospital from the construction standpoint. We can expect more of similar construction in larger cities in the near future, should the case number get worse in Indonesia.