In praise of prefab

By - , Build 166

Pamela Bell, founder and CEO of PrefabNZ, is a passionate advocate of prefabrication.
She tells Build about opportunities for offsite construction in KiwiBuild and what’s
happening in the international prefab scene.

PREFABNZ has been obsessed with increasing innovation in construction since 2010 – 8 years of educating and advocating for offsite or manufactured construction methods, also known as prefabrication or prefab.

Our organisation has grown to nearly 300 members who are designing, making or assembling a range of components, panels and pods from all materials or watching this space and timing their entry.

Opportunities offered by KiwiBuild

The opportunity now facing the construction sector and offsite community in particular, is around delivering KiwiBuild – aiming for 100,000 homes over 10 years. PrefabNZ believes KiwiBuild must incorporate:

  • a design-led quality focus, aiming above New Zealand Building Code minimum standards
  • a multi-year procurement programme at scale and at pace, enabling businesses to invest in their offsite manufacturing methods
  • streamlining the building consent regulatory process using the reliance model, which relies on all sectors of the construction sector to meet their responsibilities under the Building Act
  • a bank finance approach enabling direct lending to clients for payment of offsite projects, coupled with 10-year workmanship guarantees
  • an integrated industry network enabling our SME-dominant construction industry to transform for the long term
  • a prototyping approach where quality, affordable homes are tested, tweaked and retested so the best are recreated at scale and showcased through a permanent show village.

A range of alternative approaches to unbundle the financing of land, infrastructure and planning is also required.

Looking inwards – projects

Four projects that address KiwiBuild were launched at PrefabNZ’s recent annual CoLab event:

  • PrefabNZ’s Capacity and Capability Report 2018 proving 70% of KiwiBuild can be delivered by the existing prefabrication sector within 3 years.
  • PrefabNZ’s Good Offsite Guide – building consent pathways for offsite projects from MBIE, Auckland Council and others.
  • Better Bank Finance – how major banks are improving finance for innovative construction projects.
  • SNUG — ‘a home in your backyard’ competition to create, by the end of this year, a selection of preconsented, smarter 1-bedroom homes on existing sites.

Looking to precedents overseas

We are not alone. New Zealand can learn specifically from the UK, Scotland, Sweden, Germany, Singapore, the US and Australia.

At CoLab, Mark Farmer (Cast Consultancy, UK) spoke about how the Mayor of London’s office combined housing and skills budgets in an integrated strategy to deliver housing via offsite construction. The UK Government has five ministries planning to use it in their procurement strategy from 2019.

Scotland recently launched the Construction Scotland Innovation Centre (CSIC) linking university researchers with regional economic development agencies,to provide a fast-fail shared factory and innovation incubation programmes.

Sweden has long held the top spot in timber manufacturing systems, exemplified by home builder Lindbacks and the Swedish Wood Building Council.

In the US, Google’s volumetric prefab housing for workers and construction start-up Katerra are changing the delivery of housing solutions.

The last word goes to our cousins in Australia. Professor James Murray-Parkes of Brookfield Scientific Solutions is rethinking the physics of construction as inspired by nature. His team has engineered multiple joints in a skyscraper’s structure based on how blades of grass move in the wind. ‘If you don’t prefab, you’re a moron,’ he said at CoLab.

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