The ever-chang­ing face of off­site con­struc­tion

Australasian Timber - - PREFAB -

War­ren Mc­Gre­gor

WE WILL all have our own view as to what we think pre­fab­ri­ca­tion and off­site con­struc­tion is, and what­ever your view is, I sug­gest that it is un­likely to be wrong.

How­ever, I am equally con­fi­dent in say­ing that it is in­creas­ingly likely to be in­com­plete or out­dated. And that’s a good thing, be­cause new el­e­ments are be­ing added to the spec­trum of off­site con­struc­tion all the time.

Fac­tory built com­plete homes, fully fit­ted apart­ment and ho­tel mod­ules cap­tured a lot of the at­ten­tion early on. And rightly so, as they rep­re­sented a dra­mat­i­cally dif­fer­ent way of achiev­ing the de­sired built form out­come, with re­duced con­struc­tion time on site be­ing a key ad­van­tage. Th­ese ‘vol­u­met­ric’ man­u­fac­tured build­ings con­tinue to of­fer a range of at­trac­tive op­tions with ever in­creas­ing de­sign ap­peal and re­fine­ment of con­struc­tion.

Along­side this, there have been many ad­vances oc­cur­ring in other ar­eas. Bath­room pods, pan­el­lised wall, floor and roof com­po­nents, a mod­u­lar wiring sys­tems form (MLEX) and even a mod­u­lar bridge sys­tem form (Lift­ing Point) are now all part of the mix.

Engineered tim­ber prod­ucts like Glu­lam, LVL, and cross lam­i­nated tim­ber (CLT) pro­vide ex­cit­ing new de­sign op­por­tu­ni­ties, as do the re­cent changes to the na­tional con­struc­tion code which now al­lows tim­ber struc­tures up to 25 me­tres (eight­storeys). XLam has an­nounced that next year it will open Aus­tralia’s first CLT man­u­fac­tur­ing plant in Wodonga, Vic­to­ria (for clar­ity, the Lend Lease De­sign Make fac­tory in Syd­ney trans­forms im­ported CLT blanks into pre­ci­sion cut el­e­ments for rapid in­stal­la­tion at site.)

Bath­room pods – bath­room mod­ules com­plete with all wiring and plumb­ing, fix­tures and fit­tings, tilings, glass screens, towel rails, and so on – are be­ing adopted for more res­i­den­tial and stu­dent hous­ing projects. They are de­liv­ered to site ready to be placed in lo­ca­tion and con­nected of to the build­ing ser­vices.

Demon­strat­ing their flex­i­bil­ity, bath­room pod de­signs can be tai­lored for small, ef­fi­cient, and bud­get con­scious stu­dent ac­com­mo­da­tion ap­pli­ca­tions right through to very high-end res­i­den­tial apart­ment tow­ers. In Europe, bath­room pods have be­come stan­dard for many of the ma­jor ho­tel chains. In Aus­tralia, we can ex­pect in­creased adop­tion for high rise res­i­den­tial projects, hospi­tal, re­tire­ment and aged care ap­pli­ca­tions.

Pan­el­lised sys­tems is an­other ac­tive area – think flat pack build­ings. Th­ese range from floor cas­settes to com­plete sys­tems of floor, wall and roof pan­els. This is more in the style of the Swedish panel sys­tems used in around 80 per cent of their hous­ing. More and more of the Euro­pean au­to­mated panel mak­ing equip­ment is be­ing in­stalled in Aus­tralia, so we can look for­ward to hear­ing much more about the ad­van­tages that th­ese tech­nolo­gies bring.

This all adds up to an ex­cit­ing ar­ray of pre­fab­ri­ca­tion op­tions. And more im­por­tantly, th­ese new op­tions are be­ing suc­cess­fully im­ple­mented. Demon­strat­ing this, in the last month there were two top­ping out cer­e­monies of break­through projects.

One of th­ese, the Hick­ory built res­i­den­tial tower at 323 La Trobe Street in Mel­bourne, is Aus­tralia’s tallest pre­fab­ri­cated build­ing at 44 lev­els. Much of the heavy lift­ing took of mod­ules place at night to min­imise con­ges­tion on this busy CBD street dur­ing the day as well as help the struc­ture rise at the re­mark­able rate of two floors per week.

The other is In­ter­na­tional House at Syd­ney’s Baranga­roo – an eight-level com­mer­cial build­ing made from CLT and Glu­lam sourced from Europe and wrapped in a glass façade.

Al­though dif­fer­ent in many re­spects such as the struc­tural ma­te­ri­als, where the man­u­fac­tur­ing oc­curred, and night works, they did share one very valu­able at­tribute: once each floor was in­stalled, it was able to be used im­me­di­ately and safely, with­out the cur­ing time and back prop­ping as­so­ci­ated with con­ven­tional con­crete struc­tures.

War­ren Mc­Gre­gor, CEO of pre­fabAUS (which was es­tab­lished in 2013 as Aus­tralia’s peak in­dus­try body for off-site con­struc­tion) takes a look at the chang­ing world of off­site con­struc­tion. Source­able

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