On the tools

Two peo­ple with ba­sic tools can bolt to­gether this home

HOME Magazine NZ - - Contents - Text — Cather­ine Smith

With its pro­to­type ‘Fern­mark 56’ mod­u­lar house about to spring from the ground in Wanaka, Fern­mark – made up of Giles Barker, Gra­ham Barry and de­signer Matt Smith – aims to de­sign high-qual­ity, fast-assem­bly homes. Smith ex­plains the con­cept. What prompted an in­dus­trial/fur­ni­ture de­signer to scale up and de­sign houses? I stud­ied in­dus­trial de­sign at Monash Univer­sity, fo­cus­ing on fur­ni­ture de­sign. Friends asked me to de­sign a house for them in Wellington and I’ve now done houses in Matakana and Christchurch. The Fern­mark con­cept came from my codi­rec­tor Giles Barker (a for­mer ad­ver­tis­ing and de­sign ex­ec­u­tive), who could see a bet­ter way of build­ing, and he en­listed me in its de­vel­op­ment. How can the Fern­mark house be as­sem­bled on site by two low-skilled peo­ple? And how can coun­cil build­ing in­spec­tors ap­prove them? Giles’ con­cept started as a com­plete ground-up re­think of ev­ery sin­gle as­pect of how homes are con­structed, to re­duce the need for skilled labour. He wanted to be able to build him­self a house with his two sons. The New Zealand Build­ing Code re­quires a li­censed build­ing prac­ti­tioner for some of the work, but our sys­tem of en­gi­neered parts can be bolted to­gether with sim­ple tools by ad­di­tional un­skilled work­ers. No part is too heavy to be lifted by two able-bod­ied peo­ple. What are the parts? They are pri­mar­ily lam­i­nated tim­ber posts and beams, steel join­ers and in­su­lated pan­els. The Sure­foot foun­da­tion sys­tem can be in­stalled in a day with only a jack ham­mer. Plumb­ing is cen­tralised in a ‘cas­sette’ made off site to re­duce the time a plum­ber is needed on site. Sim­i­larly, mod­u­lar elec­tri­cal sys­tems are prewired off site and plugged to­gether on site. How does the price com­pare to ex­ist­ing bulk-hous­ing builders? We are still fi­nal­is­ing our cost­ing but we are al­ready pro­ject­ing to be com­pa­ra­ble to ex­ist­ing com­pa­nies. Once we hit even a mod­est scale we can re­ally drive the cost down. We want to main­tain a high-qual­ity build; our ma­te­rial costs will re­duce as we in­crease scale, with other sav­ings from the speed of build. Your con­cept draw­ing shows a main gabled form with an­nexes that con­nect them to make larger homes. What are the sizes? There are two forms – the large gabled one of four me­tres wide and an an­nex of two me­tres. The struc­ture works on a 2x2-me­tre grid, cre­at­ing build­ings of four, six and 10-me­tre widths and vary­ing lengths. There is no limit to the size that the sys­tem could pro­duce. The in­ter­nal struc­ture al­lows us to in­ter­change win­dows and doors and can sup­port two-storey homes. Can the sys­tem be used for multi-unit dwellings or af­ford­able and so­cial hous­ing? Ab­so­lutely, but rather than af­ford­able or so­cial hous­ing we have al­ways ap­proached it as one house for all. I don’t see any rea­son why a warm, well-built home shouldn’t be a min­i­mum stan­dard avail­able to ev­ery­one. When can we buy a Fern­mark home? They’ll be ready for de­liv­ery in early 2019.

A ren­der of the ‘Fern­mark 56’, which comes with cedar join­ery, a post-and-beam struc­ture and ‘FlaxPod’ cladding by Colorsteel. The one-bed­room home has a large loft space to ac­com­mo­date guests. Win­dow and door lay­outs can be changed to suit.

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