Smart, fast service pods

This Issue This is a part of the Medium-density housing feature

By - , Build 154

The open-source UNIpod for bathrooms and kitchens is prebuilt and stackable, making it a useful option for multi-residential developments.

UNIpod set up at CoLab.
UNIpod set up at CoLab.
First Light Studio rendering of UNIpod.

‘FIGURES FROM Statistics NZ show that Auckland’s … population growth demands about 14,000 new dwellings per year. It is clear that the current build rate of 9,534 per annum in Auckland is still woefully inadequate in meeting underlying demand, let alone starting to rectify the region’s shortage of housing.’

This comes from BCITO’s Construction Update for April 2016. It shows concerns about capacity constraints and raises doubts about whether the forecast 14,700 new dwelling consents in the June 2017 year is possible.

Need to build smarter and faster

To meet Auckland’s housing shortage, we will have to build smarter and faster. Intensification is one solution, and prefabrication is one tool to produce quality prebuilt pieces and parts.

One answer could be a prebuilt bathroom and kitchen pod such as the stackable UNIpod concept. This is ideal for multi-unit housing and could be used as Auckland densifies.

One-piece bathroom-kitchen pod

The UNIpod is an open-source, one-piece bathroom-kitchen pod that is like a giant piece of Lego. It was the winning prototype in a design competition run by PrefabNZ and supported by the New Zealand Institute of Architects, Retirement Villages Association, Lifemark and Victoria University of Wellington’s (VUW) School of Architecture.

UNIpod was developed by the First Light Studio in Wellington – the team from VUW that placed third at the international Solar Decathlon in 2011. It conforms to Lifemark universal design guidelines and regulatory bathroom standards for accessibility and incorporates a full working kitchen. It is cost-effective as well as structurally sound and buildable.

Open-source pods open new possibilities

First, there were open-source prenail roof trusses and wall frames. These are now used in almost all new housing.

The next step is an open-source piece like this bathroom pod as the utility-core of the home, housing all the key services. Any size apartment, retirement unit or family home could grow around the UNIpod.

Although bathroom pods are not a new idea in New Zealand or globally, the UNIpod’s open-source access is a first for New Zealand and potentially the world. Anyone can freely access the design and potentially improve it in future versions.

This way of prototyping is possible with the use of digital tools and the sharing of information collaboratively. This is a potential way forward for the construction industry.

Many benefits of bathroom pods

Several reasons to use off-site constructed bathroom pods were suggested at the US Modular Building Institute’s World of Modular event in March 2016:

  • Quality improvements – well trained labour, standard processes and a clean working environment.
  • Cost effectiveness – greater productivity, less waste, more standardisation and less rework.
  • Less time – on and off site programmed in parallel. Traditional on-site work takes 82 hours versus 8 hours on site with a pod.
  • Fewer defects – approximate time saving of US$700 per pod due to fewer defects and site time.
  • Safety – fewer people on site.
  • Sustainability – waste minimisation.
  • Productivity – factory operatives are 250% more efficient than site-based ones.
  • Certainty – control over budget and programme schedule.
  • Convenience – lack of on-site disruption.
  • Profitability – better economies of scale from repeatability.

Overseas experiences have found that efficiencies can be gained from changing mindsets, removing drying times, integrating the supply chain, removing bottlenecks and multi-tasking. Resulting savings are ideally shared with the client 50/50.

Bathroom pods around since the 1960s

Bathroom pods have been in use since the 1960s and were used in accommodation at the Tokyo Olympics athletes’ village in 1964.

In New Zealand, De Geest Construction supplied 350 houses with prebuilt bathrooms for Cromwell’s hydro scheme housing in the late 1970s. De Geest has supplied over 7,500 bathroom pods around the country and to Australia and the Pacific for hotel, hospital and residential developments.

First Light Studio rendering of UNIpod.

Recently, new lightweight slimline technology has been made available by Construction Components in Christchurch, as well as the central North Island’s PLB Construction and Stanley Group.

Some tips for designers

Planning is the key to success. Here are a few tips for designers thinking about using prebuilt pods:

  • Early involvement by the bathroom pod manufacturer is crucial.
  • The whole project team needs buy-in from the start.
  • Prototype manufacture allows you to ‘fail fast’ and adjust until the pod is right.
  • A design freeze must be agreed to by all parties.
  • A single point of contact should coordinate all elements and changes.
  • Riser connection coordination is important to ensure no clashes occur on site.
  • Virtual routing through the structure must happen, and BIM is widely used to coordinate this.

Technology advancing quickly

Technology improvements have been rapid. The pod prefabrication process that once took 14 days now takes only 4 days.

As intelligence from around the globe becomes more accessible through collaborative activities and events like PrefabNZ’s CoLab, it becomes easier to share the latest technical information.

For more

Visit The ‘tips’ in this article are courtesy of Intelligent Offsite, UK. See

Download the PDF

More articles about these topics

Articles are correct at the time of publication but may have since become outdated.

UNIpod set up at CoLab.
UNIpod set up at CoLab.
First Light Studio rendering of UNIpod.