The era of productivity

By - , Build 132

There are exciting times ahead if the industry creatively innovates for smarter, more sustainable ways of operating.

Graham Coe
Graham Coe

THE BUILDING AND CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY is on the verge of change as it pushes for unprecedented productivity gains before the end of the decade.

This is a real challenge that I cannot overstate. If we hope to realise these gains, as an industry, we must find ways to produce warmer, drier, more sustainable and more durable buildings. To achieve this means that we need to be more innovative and cleverer at what we do.

We can innovate with design, new products and how we use them, innovate in our land use and design of communities and even innovate in the way our councils and central government agencies approach regulatory requirements.

Flexible thinking for problem solving

For instance, when we build a house under the New Zealand Building Code, it has a durability requirement of 50 years. It’s a one-size-fits-all approach to residential construction, yet what if we took a much broader and more flexible approach in our thinking? We might investigate increasing the 50-year requirement in some areas and decreasing it in others as population trends and urban intensification change.

Where there is a requirement for emer­gency housing, what is to stop us from adopting a staggered process? We might allocate and build on an area with a durability require­­ment of 20 years and, after the time period, clear the site and redevelop it into higher density housing.

Innovation means developing and working with new ideas, products and methods and also developing simple and elegant solutions that you can standardise. If you can innovate in that way, it leads to streamlining and smarter ways of working.

Standardising for consistency

When I talk about standardisation, I’m not suggesting we build rows of houses that look the same. I’m talking about using proven building methods that can be consistently applied and standardised consenting processes that use the same methodology, irrespective of where the building is located.

This means the owner, architect, builder, inspector and everyone involved in the project knows how the building should be designed and constructed and what performance to expect. There is no undue proliferation of design and construction methods.

I also envisage that, when a tradesperson walks into a supply store, products display a prominent ‘assurance mark’ indicating it is an approved product backed by a mandatory testing regime that proves it meets the installation, performance and durability requirements for use in the New Zealand environment.

Taking timber as an example

One very good step forward in this regard has been in the timber treatment sector. Today, we enjoy a far better and more standardised timber treatment regime than we had just 3 or 4 years ago. The system is easy to understand and is well documented, and today’s timber is instantly recognisable.

This kind of standardisation speeds up and simplifies the construction process, leading to gains in productivity.

It’s an exciting time for the industry. Unfortunately, it took a weathertightness crisis and a national disaster in Canterbury to stir change, but we are going to see a great deal of innovative thinking emerge from these tragedies in years to come.

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Graham Coe
Graham Coe