In February 2010, Pamela Bell held a Kiwi Prefab workshop at Victoria University of Wellington to round out her Master of Architecture Thesis – Kiwi Prefab: prefabricated housing in New Zealand, past, present and future.
She expected 40 people; more than three times that number turned up from across New Zealand.
The seeds of PrefabNZ had been planted. By the end of that day-long symposium there was unanimous agreement to start an industry organisation to connect people with prefab products and processes. A steering committee was volunteered and PrefabNZ was born, with Bell at the helm.
Since then the organisation has grown from a staff of one, to a core team of five and up to three student researchers.
“Our Board has been continually refreshed through our annual appointments process,” says Bell. “We have had several fantastic Chairs and many committed and long-standing Board members. Our maximum term is now six years, so we are experiencing refreshing new governance perspectives all the time.”
Still smiling: Pamela Bell receives life membership of PrefabNZ, the organisation she founded.
At a strategic level, Bell says PrefabNZ has moved from delivering information, education and networking opportunities into closer relationships with central and local government officials and Ministers. “Advocacy on key project areas such as procurement, building consenting / permitting, bank finance, and skills / qualifications, has become increasingly important.”
As a hybrid industry association and social enterprise, PrefabNZ has been free to write its own rules and enter uncharted territory. “We delivered the country’s first HIVE Home Innovation Village in response to the Canterbury earthquakes (2012-2014) and we have delivered the range of SNUG ‘a home in my backyard’ design solutions in response to the affordable homes crisis that first became a pressing issue in 2018.”
A key milestone for the organisation has been the evolution of its annual CoLab conference, she says. “It really combines our strategic values around delivering great member value while creating interactive opportunities and having an awesome time. We believe learning should be engaging, fun and hands-on.”
Bell plans to hand over to PrefabNZ’s new incoming head in June but will continue her engagement with the organisation as a Life Member. Bell’s next move will see her continue to deploy her industry experience and smarts.
“I’m going to work independently for the next while, making my decade of prefab expertise available to the broader construction industry, while looking at new opportunities in the innovation space in related industries. I’m also going to follow up the international inquiries we have had in the past about the PrefabNZ model being applied into other countries.”
“The prefab / offsite space is at such an exciting pivotal tipping-point in New Zealand. This is the perfect time to step aside now that PrefabNZ has reached a level of financial and strategic sustainability. Prefabrication is now embraced at a central government level and is getting the attention it deserves from the traditional parts of the built environment industry. It’s an exciting time and I’m privileged to have been part of nurturing its development to this stage.”■