From homes that can be unfolded and assembled without machinery to carbon positive modular houses and contemporary beach shacks, the prefab market in Australia is looking exciting, sustainable and beautiful.
While multi-storey buildings have usually grabbed less attention in the prefab space, attention to larger housing solutions is gathering momentum. Now the University of Sydney and construction heavyweight Lendlease have been awarded a $3 million Commonwealth government grant to research pre-fabricated multi-storey housing.
The five-year industry-led project, bankrolled by the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science’s Cooperative Research Centre Projects (CRC-P) program, will design and build prototype housing using high-tech renewable materials and use cutting edge manufacturing methods.
Prefab buildings are not a new idea. The Roman’s used some prefabricated elements to build parts of their forts from around AD43 when they conquered Britain and prefab housing was transported to the British colonies from the first quarter of the 17th century, including Australia.
Prefab housing is probably most famously linked to providing homes and employment for soldiers returning after World Wars and keeping up with the baby boom.
It is not a new area for Lendlease either. The company already has experience in the prefabricating high-rise buildings and has a Western Sydney factory where it manufactures the Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) used in prefabs as part of its DesignMake business.
The company designed and built the world’s tallest prefabricated timber building, Forte, in 2013. The 32.17m tall building (10 storeys) in Melbourne Docklands is made from CLT. It has a five green star as built rating and includes sustainability features, including rainwater tanks, car sharing and energy efficient lighting and appliances.
It also sold well and was occupied quickly, a result which Lendlease will no doubt be eager to replicate in its new project.
Prefabrication is also essential to Lendlease’s gateway project at Barangaroo, where it will design and build a six-storey commercial building totally from timber – called International House Sydney.
The new research project with Sydney University deepens its commitment to prefab buildings and sustainability.
Chief Executive Officer, Lendlease Property, Kylie Rampa, said the demand for affordable and innovative housing meant the building industry had to come up with imaginative, new housing solutions.
“We aim to bring to market an innovative housing system that is design-led, which will help address affordability issues, while developing advanced manufacturing technologies and techniques for future housing construction,” Rampa said.
Associate Professor Mathew Aitchison at Sydney University’s Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning said the project was a great opportunity to spearhead innovation in the residential construction market, which had remained largely static in the last 100 years.
“We will focus on developing multi-storey prototype houses that can be adapted for manufacture and customised project to project,” Prof Aitchison said. “At the same time, we are looking at ways to reduce risk and waste, while increasing the efficiency, safety, quality, sustainability and diversity of market-ready housing.
“Despite major advances in other manufacturing sectors, innovation in residential construction is lagging,” Prof Aitchison said. “This project seeks to drive efficiency and safety benefits and boost Australia’s competitiveness internationally, where we have seen a notable increase in advanced manufacturing in building over the past decade.”
The aim is to develop a range of solutions for the multi-storey housing market that answer the twin calls of increasing urban density and the demands of the residential market.
Rampa said the new jobs, skills and technologies would be created through the project, which would also open up export opportunities “for prefabricated housing to meet the sophisticated needs of homebuyers and builders.”
The research project brings together industry leaders in Australian housing and construction including Lendlease and the University of Sydney’s Innovation in Applied Design Lab, located in the Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning.
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