“May you live in interesting times,” goes the famed aphorism. And we do. Challenges triggered by rapid urbanisation, sustainability and the need for affordable housing, continue to saturate the ether. Offsite construction answers many of these, but as our main feature on finance (starting on page 16) demonstrates, a dramatic re-think on funding is needed if the sector is to flourish.
There’s a lot to be enthused by however. As this fourth issue of Built Offsite was gearing up for publication, I had the opportunity to gain insight into one of the oldest building products in the world from one of its oldest European progenitors.
Coverage of Austria’s timber and timber construction sector (page 29) demonstrates the possibilities of this sustainable building product, which clearly has potential for greater uptake in the Australian setting.
Another key theme that emerged from the Austrian presentation was the use of technology to facilitate design, share information and ultimately reduce costs. Austria’s dataholz.com acts as a vast catalogue of construction elements. Meanwhile another online design portal, klhdesigner.at assists the design of timber constructions.
Our news story on page 6 echoes this theme. That LA firm Cover can leverage software used in the design of Boeing 777 and 787 airliners to create low cost, environmentally sensitive home designs, is evidence of the power of radical thinking. Backed by venture capital funding, Cover is more akin to a tech company than an architecture firm.
We do live in interesting times.■
Managing Editor Built Offsite
Welcome to this fourth edition of Built Offsite. It is very pleasing to see how successful Built Offsite has become in such a short period of time. It is testament to the prescience and professionalism of the editorial and production teams and further underlines the heightened interest in, and opportunities for, improved construction methodologies.
Offsite construction comes in many forms. It also comes with an assortment of new terminology – modular, prefab, panelised, volumetric, accelerated construction and sub-assemblies to mention just a selection. When this terminology is taken to refer to different things by players who are active in offsite construction it is little wonder that outsiders can be confused or easily mistake a particular system with which they are familiar as representative of the broader range of options. The glossary on p.38 will go some way to providing some clarity here.
This edition explores one of the key obstacles to the broader take-up of offsite construction; funding. Difficulties experienced in obtaining finance for non-traditional construction can hinder or even halt projects otherwise well suited to alternative solutions. The larger the offsite construction element of a given project, the less likely it is to neatly fit within the major bank lending policies. This is understandable since those policies were formulated in an environment where onsite construction was the pretty much the only option. And while misconceptions can often be the starting point, we are encouraged to learn that through conversation and engagement a deeper understanding may lead to re- consideration by lenders.
But it is not just the banks that can play a role here. Non-bank lenders typically operate in a higher risk space than banks, and may well be better suited to take the lead in assessing new risk profiles, exploring risk mitigation options and devising new funding solutions.■