It’s a great time to talk about collaboration – hot on the heels of PrefabNZ’s fifth annual CoLab conference and the start of a new financial year. At this year’s CoLab, PrefabNZ collaborated with the Institute of Building on the Site Visit Day that saw delegates from NZ, Australia and Singapore mix and mingle over innovative construction. Such networking couldn’t be more timely; the motivations for working together more closely in new and efficient ways are primarily to reduce the housing shortages in our major cities.

Auckland’s housing shortage

Auckland’s new Mayor Phil Goff recently called a Housing Taskforce into action and asked industry experts to outline what was standing in the way of delivering a construction target of over 13,000 new dwellings per annum over the next five years in order to match population growth. PrefabNZ contributed its top three recommendations:

  1. Clarifying building code regulation is an important area being addressed on both sides of the Tasman. In Australia, the Modular Construction Codes Board is working on an information release for May. In NZ, the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment is due to issue its Guidance for Manufactured Building Solutions. PrefabNZ is facilitating trans-Tasman talks to explore how we can work more closely together.
  2. Unblocking traditional bank mortgage finance for both large ‘chunks’ (eg. bathroom pods or a shipment of floor panels) and fully completed ‘transportable’ housing. PrefabNZ has a Better Bank Finance workstream and Builtin presented at the recent CoLab event in Auckland about the Transportable Guarantee for First Home Buyers and a proposed Advance Payment Bond for Prefabricated Components. More high-level education is needed here.
  3. More education to key stakeholders – primarily consumers, developers, builders and banks. There is still vast misunderstanding of the range of innovative construction products and processes available, both within and outside the construction industry.

SGA Strachan Group Architects offices

PrefabNZ continues to inform, educate and advocate about offsite construction. A key way to educate stakeholders is through showcase housing parks, as exemplified by offsite industries in Scandinavia, Japan and Germany. A permanent HIVE, Home Innovation Village, like that showcasing a range of ten high-quality, sustainable, well-designed prefabricated houses at Canterbury Agricultural Park, Christchurch from April 2012 to November 2014, is an effective way to address this.

It is heartening to see the United Kingdom’s approach to collaboration – starting with the Government pledging to make sure homes constructed offsite will be as mortgageable as their traditional counterparts. In the UK Government’s recent housing white paper, ‘Fixing our broken housing market’, they agreed to support a joint working group with lenders and valuers to make sure mortgages are readily available.

It will also support the sector with its £3bn Home Builders’ Fund and Accelerated Construction programme unveiled in October, while it will consider helping offsite firms gain innovation and growth funding.

In the US, we are watching with anticipation the Google Sidewalk Labs initiative that is bringing people, ideas and solutions together to address housing challenges using tools such as offsite construction of medium-density urban homes.

PrefabNZ’s CoLab is the annual get-together for information, inspiration and innovation. In the words of founding Board Member, architect, urbanist and presenter of NZ’s Grand Designs, Chris Moller:

“The open positive spirit of PrefabNZ is truly contagious, with many new people I spoke to seeing the full benefits of this collaborative synergetic network to make the stepchange that the industry so desperately needs.”

Expert speakers from Sweden, Australia and NZ spoke on medium-density housing, timber panelisation, utility pods, regulation compliance and better bank finance. Sweden’s Helena Lidelow spoke about the importance of both business model and delivery process of Lindbacks system from her perspective as both structural engineer and academic professor. Helena presented a simple diagram that demonstrated that 35% of costs of on-site operations at building sites are costs associated with waste, such as waiting times, interruptions, delays due to weather etc.

Collaborating Partners
As a non-profit, PrefabNZ relies on and works closely with like-minded partners – platinum partners like XLam and CHH Woodproducts, gold partners like Altus, silver partners like Stanleys, Jacks, Resene, James Hardie and Pryda, and bronze partners like NZ Steel, PlaceMakers, Paul Industries and Metrapanel. It’s heartening to note that these businesses understand the power of collaboration. XLam Chief Executive, Gary Caulfield, comments:
“… successful use of modern methods of construction, not just CLT, requires a high degree of collaboration at the earliest stages of project conception to ensure success.” Collaborating to develop new products Similarly, the team at Pryda cites their collaborative development of long-span floor cartridges and the importance of working closely with clients, such as Victoria’s Drouin West Timber and Truss (DWTT).

Pryda is focused on increasing levels of automation, providing sophisticated design software and advice on automated sawing and assembly equipment to transition its customers from traditional frame and truss businesses to become successful automated suppliers of prefabricated building components.

They are also providing solutions and systems towards multi-storey residential structures not traditionally associated with timber. It is a true multi-user platform that allows roof, floor and wall detailers to work off a single master plan at the same time. Pryda aim to develop software with their customers, rather than merely for them. Pryda Strategic Marketing Manager, Simon Healey, comments: “The NZ housing market is running hot and any time on site savings will be critical. Prefabricated timber framing systems, including Pryda floor cassettes, will certainly assist to improve not only speed on site, but also safety. Floor cassettes are applicable for detached and terraced housing as well as low- to mid-rise apartments.”

FutureFit is the brain-child of DWTT, the most advanced frame and truss plant in Australia for panelised products and floor cassettes. They set out to ‘Significantly Reduce the Time to Lockup’ and ended up with a system of lightweight external claddings, windows and external doors, and long-reach floor cassettes which deliver significant reductions in the build program for residential and light commercial.

Initial pre-nail wall frame and roof truss practices were simply moving the traditional onsite assembly into a shed, out of the sun and away from the impact of wind and rain. Now, the panelised building system utilises digital technology combining 3D CAD software with fully automated multi-function CNC equipment.

Founding PrefabNZ Board Member and Lifetime Member, Dave Strachan of Strachan Group Architects, knows a thing or two about collaboration. He was an instigator of the Studio 19 course at Unitec, New Zealand’s only hands-on architecture building course, which resulted in several award-winning designs.

Dave’s twin sons Fraser and James have a business called Crate Innovation combining construction, furniture and landscape architecture. Dave’s belief in collaboration extends to the new combined work space / technical workshop / architecture studio / apartment development in Auckland. More information and imagery can be found at

PrefabNZ extends an open invitation to collaborate, network, attend a prefabAUS or PrefabNZ event. It’s time to get builders, architects, engineers and developers on side about offsite. Talk to one today! ■

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