Blog: Innovation SECBE Awards 2019 finalist - Rosewell House

22 May 2019

sponsored by RIFT R&D

Rosewell House, Tonbridge - submitted by Masonry Frame Systems

At the centre of this submission is a UK-first masonry block system called the Xella Silka Element system.  Working in close partnership with Xella GmbH, Masonry Frame System (MFS) first looked at introducing this system to the UK in 2016.

The Silka Element system is a large panel, semi-‘offsite’ manufactured masonry block system used extensively throughout the continent, with typical elements weighing 240kgs. The system allows for significant improvements in productivity on site, reduced need for skilled labour and reduced manual handling - cutting, waste and improved build quality.

However, construction is a risk-adverse industry and resistant to change. The biggest single barrier to entry to the UK was the development and manufacture of a prototype mini crane to meet with the UK Health & Safety legislation, as existing provision was only for the continental European market which permits 3 phase 415V and not 240v single phase.  MFS agreed to initially purchase 3 units – 2 for optimum production and a spare in the event of breakdown as these are currently the only ones that exist in the world.

With all design and co-ordination carried out with Xella GmbH from their Dutch plant, MFS foresaw many benefits and modified the system to incorporate a ‘hybrid’ masonry frame solution - with PCC hollowcore floor planks, stairs and PCC balcony units to form the structural frame.

This design innovation was developed to further complement MFSs’ DfMA approach for ‘medium to high’ rise construction of flats, apartments, care & retirement homes and student accommodation. It has been instrumental in changing the dynamics of the structural build programme and key to the main contractor achieving crucial milestone Golden Brick handover dates and the early release of the show complex.

The system facilitated the early weather tightness of each block, rationalising the build programme, fast tracking the structural envelopes and completing all 118 Apartments in 31 working weeks. The solution being manufactured off site in controlled factory conditions also ensured greater quality control and consistency in delivery with reduced health and safety risk. As well as all this, the combined ‘offsite’ balcony units generated a saving to the project in the region of £200,000.

Overall there was a 50% reduction in ‘labour’ recorded on the project but a 70% increase in ‘new labour’ to the construction industry, helping to address some of the skills shortage in the UK. There was a further reduction in the need for existing ‘skilled labour’, such as long-standing experienced bricklayers on site.

  • Once the workforce became more familiar and experienced with the system and the mini crane, they reported less fatigue and strain. It is more gender neutral and almost anyone could be trained to construct the Silka Elements.
  • Because of the perceived novelty of the system, mini cranes and speed of erection, it appealed to a younger generation that saw the system as new, exciting and innovative, unlike the traditional trowel trades. This is something they are embracing with apprentice recruitment.
  • The Silka system is also perfectly suitable for spray-on plaster. When this system has been fully embraced by the UK industry, this will benefit the construction programme.
  • The design is 100% fully BIM compliant enabling all clash detection and builders work holes and containment routes to be designed and formed, saving further time, money and potential disruption.


  • Manufacture of a prototype mini crane to meet with the UK Health &  Safety legislation as existing provision. MFS agreed to initially purchase 3 units – these are currently the only ones  that exist in the world
  • MFS were able to transform the dynamics of structural build programme, realising the full potential of the Silka Element system taking 12 weeks off of a critical Golden Brick milestone and 9 weeks off the Show Flat.
  • Helping to address the skills shortage for this sector of the market by improving productivity and attracting new entrants to the industry.

For more details:

Visit Masonry Frame Systems

The SECBE 2019 Innovation Award is sponsored by RIFT R&D.

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