Ex­pert opin­ion

An in­sider’s guide to pre­fab hous­ing

HOME Magazine NZ - - Contents - Text Cather­ine Smith

We have plenty of group and vol­ume house builders, but what can we do to switch them onto well-de­signed den­sity, in­stead of sprawl­ing sin­gle-fam­ily de­vel­op­ments on the city fringes? Group-home build­ing com­pa­nies have a sweet spot in subur­ban sub­di­vi­sions of sep­a­rate houses, dab­bling in multi-unit hous­ing, us­ing pre­fab­ri­cated build­ing com­po­nents. But rep­e­ti­tion of build­ings are not well re­ceived by their clients, who pre­fer some in­di­vid­u­al­ity. A ma­jor is­sue is deal­ing with mass cus­tomi­sa­tion: in­di­vid­u­alised de­sign with ef­fi­cien­cies from rep­e­ti­tion. Group builders are not great at deal­ing with medium and high den­sity, they too of­ten min­imise or cut de­sign from a project. De­sign needs to lead these projects. There are plenty of small man­u­fac­tur­ers of com­po­nents. What is needed to ramp them up to pro­duce vol­ume, quickly? The pre­fab in­dus­try is dis­rupt­ing the ways we build but it’s in­cre­men­tal in­no­va­tion – small shifts of pre­fab­ri­cated el­e­ments within con­ven­tional build­ing, for ex­am­ple wall el­e­ments. They may in­clude new sys­tems that use BIM (Build­ing In­for­ma­tion Modelling) and file-todig­i­tal fab­ri­ca­tion to au­to­mate de­sign, con­struc­tion and de­liv­ery of build­ings. The big is­sue is stan­dard­i­s­a­tion, then? New Zealand’s hous­ing mar­ket has his­tor­i­cally been too small to sus­tain pre­fab man­u­fac­tur­ing growth. Ar­chi­tect-ini­ti­ated, pur­pose-de­signed build­ings may not in­cor­po­rate con­struc­tion sys­tem knowl­edge and if de­sign is not in­formed by that de­tail, there are big com­pro­mises made to adapt it for a sys­tem and re­design at the de­vel­oped de­sign phase. We need to help small and medium busi­nesses work to­gether to adopt com­mon con­struc­tion and pre­fab­ri­ca­tion pro­to­cols, get di­men­sional co­or­di­na­tion be­tween dif­fer­ent sys­tems but still re­tain com­pet­i­tive ten­der­ing be­tween sup­pli­ers. Right now we rely on devel­op­ers to cre­ate new hous­ing, what other ways of build­ing are there that could help strip out costs? The false idea that the mar­ket will de­liver af­ford­abil­ity is the prob­lem. As any builder will tell you, at a cer­tain point cheap is coun­ter­pro­duc­tive in terms of long-term per­for­mance. Un­less the gov­ern­ment finds a way to man­u­fac­ture hous­ing our­selves, like it did his­tor­i­cally with the rail­way houses, then the cost of hous­ing will be what­ever the de­vel­oper can sell it to the mar­ket for. Di­rect col­lec­tive build­ing pro­cure­ment with net-cost build­ing (like co­hous­ing, Bau­grup­pen, and Aus­tralia’s Nightin­gale) are emerg­ing here, and groups are con­nect­ing through so­cial net­work­ing. Even­tu­ally the sus­tain­abil­ity will be recog­nised by gov­ern­ment. How can the gov­ern­ment de­liver on its 100,000 homes prom­ise? A very ef­fec­tive his­tor­i­cal prece­dent in Vi­enna in 1923 cre­ated 25,000 hous­ing units in five years, and 60,000 in 10 years, us­ing more than 190 ar­chi­tects. We have a build­ing in­dus­try of small-tomedium ar­chi­tects and builders that, to­gether, are a huge col­lec­tive re­source. If they all gear up a lit­tle, it can hap­pen quickly. Imag­ine the progress if 100 ar­chi­tects and 100 build­ing teams were di­rectly en­gaged in par­al­lel to pro­vide high num­bers of medium-den­sity, af­ford­able hous­ing projects in the same time frame as a sin­gle build­ing project? It is much more pro­duc­tive to use many small, lean ad­min­is­tra­tive struc­tures, as op­posed to a few big, high-over­head greedy ones.

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