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25 November 2016

Building Ourselves Out of the Global Affordable Housing Crisis

I've been reading lots of reports this month that point to the need for New Zealand to grow a really grunty centre for construction innovation. Interested?

The reports all say the same thing — that a critical way to build ourselves out of the global affordable housing crisis is to use more innovative construction methods like offsite. Let's see their rationale.

  • The McKinsey Institute sets the scene in a recent report, predicting a "third of urban dwellers — 1.6 billion people — could struggle to secure decent housing by 2025". Scary stuff.
  • The World Economic Forum suggests a way forward, "Innovative technologies that could change the way the industry has traditionally operated should be embraced more fully." Sounds good. 
  • KPMG (UK)'s Smart Construction Report identifies, "offsite construction offers predictability and an alternative to construction status quo by promising transformative improvements across the asset lifecycle in time, cost, quality and health and safety." Now we're talking.

IMG 3923     IMG 3926  

Canadian house manufacture underway. Left: Hanging wall panels. Right: Roof on ground.

In Australia, the Victorian government has placed prefab, building information modelling and green design as keys to boosting the productivity of the state's construction sector. "We will strengthen collaboration and build on innovation to improve industry competitiveness through the adoption of digital and off-site technologies, and new products and materials. The uptake of transformational construction technologies can improve productivity and performance across all phases of the construction life cycle" — Victoria Construction Technology Strategy (2016)

The Victoria Construction Technology Strategy is behind the establishment of the Centre for Advanced Manufacturing of Prefabricated Housing, or CAMP.H, housed at the University of Melbourne's engineering school. It combines industry problems with academic answers and combined government-industry funding. The aim is for increased skills and increased uptake of innovative construction technologies. On the right track.

IMG 3542      mt pleasant

Images: Left: SIPs being made in a press in Cromwell. Right: Mount Pleasant Community Centre

So what will it mean to innovate in New Zealand in 2017 and beyond?

People, technology and collaboration are the top three transformation areas for the construction industry to move ahead, according to the World Economic Forum:

  • A focus on people skills means more cross-industry — academia and cross-country collaboration for skills transfer and growth, plus more construction technology-focused courses on offer, like a Master of Modern Construction.
  • Adopting new technologies, materials and tools is just a matter of looking around (or at Grand Designs or PrefabNZ's Directory) to see the range of high-performance widgets that are out there, like panels (SIPs, CLT, Metra, Triboard, and others).
  • Industry collaboration can achieve a wide range of outcomes, from advocating for better procurement from government, to educating banks on offsite construction methods, to networking across groups, such as through the PrefabNZ CoLab with NZ Institute of Building in March 2017

To innovate is to introduce, to begin, to institute — I propose that New Zealand needs a Construction Innovation Institute to drive the change that is needed in our construction industry, to be aligned with our Australian neighbours, and to respond to the global housing challenge. Are you in?

Written by Pamela Bell, founder of PrefabNZ.
Pamela is a consultant for innovation in the built environment. For more information, visit her website.

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