Pre-Fabrication in Construction

“Will pre fabrication in construction provide the solutions we need to increase the housing stock in NZ?”

It is widely known now that New Zealand is suffering a housing shortage, with unprecedented levels of demand putting an increased pressure on an already temperamental construction industry.
Although a strong emphasis needs to be placed and an extensive discussion can be had on causes, underlying influences and prevention, today we are going to focus on cool ideas that present us with possible short and long term solutions.
From kitset homes, to custom designed and energy efficient pre-fabricated panels, there are many options out there, so how is a mass requirement serviced by any one solution? And do we as users want a single solution to such a complex problem? The worst case I could imagine would be the mass replication of half a dozen ‘types of structure’, in large scale residential developments, removing any individuality and architectural character in our residential built environment. But then how do we achieve aesthetic satisfaction and at the same time service such a large requirement so quickly, whilst ensuring that the quality of product is not compromised?
There are too many stories of dodgy workmanship and shortcuts taken at every level by ‘every man and his dog’ during (and still ongoing!) Canterbury EQ Recovery. The overwhelming demand without clear quality assurance processes in any case is always going to lead to a failed product or service, and lessons must be learnt!

An upper hutt company, Matrix Homes in Trentham is aiming to bring their expertise in modular building to the commercial and industrial sector.
Company director, Sean Murrie said that “While rising construction costs are not the only reason many construction projects aren’t proceeding, clearly there is a need for greater innovation that will result in a less costly, faster and better performing built environment.” Modular and prefab construction can reduce the build time on site to a fraction of that taken by traditional construction.
Multi-storey modular buildings have lower maintenance costs, and better seismic and acoustic performance, which if designed correctly can serve not only to provide higher numbers of dwellings per site (increased density), but also the increase in performance and comfort that our current housing stock so desperately needs.
Architect and Grand Designs host, Chris Moller is the creator of the Click Raft system, which is a snap lock together timber framing system, where pre-fabricated components can be constructed in many different ways, and quickly on site to provide structurally stable wall and roof members.

Quirky, innovative and efficient systems like this are being developed but not necessarily adopted on a wider scale, and it would be interesting to discover whether this hurdle is caused by a cost or performance issue, or are we just stuck in the ‘same old’ processes and systems, where something different is seen as a risk rather than potential reward.
Infrastructure and surrounding amenities place further questions around the viability of large scale, high numbers of pre fab modules situated in close proximity on one site. Without surrounding shops, amenities and green space, the compromise in home size may not be seen as a benefit, is this approach better for our cities rather than our regions?
Although clearly not yet enough, the first step has been taken by opening a discussion and recognising the seriousness of the situation. A change is inevitable, the current processes take too much time, cost far too much money and produce what would be recognised internationally as at very least a thermally inferior product. As mentioned initially, some underlying factors such as consent process, political motivation, and corporate greed may have some influence on improvement at a large scale, but as in most cases proof is in the pudding, and the private sector may have to prove viability through implementation. We look forward to contributing to the improvement of NZ’s built environment!

In the past, Complete Projects have been involved in the design and construction of modular buildings for Australian mining camps, and have even completed a portable office to be shuffled around a large steel manufacturing factory here in Christchurch. Share, like or comment and let us know your thoughts on this topic, or contact us if you have any questions or suggestions!