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PrefabNZ launches the UNIpod

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Prefab’s time has come - and not a moment too soon. As Auckland heads rapidly towards a more intensified future, it needs all the quality, fast, affordable, design and construction tools it can get. Prefab is one of those tools.

In the immortal words of Victor Hugo, quoted by New Zealand's own Industrialised Building Systems in the early 1970s, "Nothing is stronger than an idea whose time has come". Prefabrication is increasingly relevant as we head towards 2020 and beyond. Digital-led fabrication means tomorrow’s homes can be delivered on-time, on-budget, using less resources and in safer working conditions.

Now is the time to launch New Zealand’s first UNIpod - an open-source bathroom pod for multi-unit homes. The UNIpod is a one-piece bathroom-and-kitchen pod, like a giant piece of Lego. It is an innovative and accessible ‘engine-room’ - combining bathroom and kitchen services and utilities. Designed to be stackable for multi-unit housing, it is part of the recipe for change and densification that Auckland needs urgently.

Custom bathroom pods are used globally for the rapid delivery of apartments, retirement villages, hotels, student accommodation and other medium-density housing. They help solve the problem of coordinating up to a dozen sub-trades in a tightly constrained space at site, by taking the work away from the construction site. The UNIpod goes one step further as the first open-source design bathroom pod - potentially a world-first.

The successful UNIpod design is the result of an architectural competition run by PrefabNZ with the Institute of Architects, Retirement Villages Association, Lifemark, and Victoria University of Wellington’s School of Architecture. Wellington’s own First Light Studio took home the $5,000 cash prize along with free entry to PrefabNZ’s CoLab this week in Auckland. First Light is the young, innovative and international Solar Decathlon Competition podium team that made their name by taking an ultra-sustainable bach in several shipping containers from Wellington to Washington DC, and back again!

The UNIpod design conforms to Lifemark universal design guidelines and regulatory bathroom standards for accessibility. It incorporates services for an adjoining kitchen, is cost-effective, as well as being structurally sound and ultimately buildable. The use of prefabrication captures benefits of increased quality, reduced time at site, reduced remedial period, reduced interruption at site and the flow-on of cost efficiencies. It’s a glimpse into the future - an easily accessible, locally available open-source construction that anyone can download and use.

"We believe this is a ‘first’ for New Zealand and potentially for the world. Thirty years ago, open-source pre-nail roof trusses and wall frames were introduced. These are now standard in almost all new housing. The next logical step is for larger open-source chunks like this innovative bathroom UNIpod. It is the nerve-functioning centre of the home, housing all the key services for daily life. Any sized apartment, retirement unit, or family home can grow around the UNIpod", according to PrefabNZ Chief Executive, Pamela Bell.

Prefab is part of solving the affordable housing puzzle - and the UNIpod is one of those puzzle pieces. UNIpod is launched at PrefabNZ’s CoLab by Auckland’s Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse on Thursday 7 April at AUT. The country’s first HIVE Home Innovation Village in Christchurch is commemorated with a book launched by Associate Minister of Primary Industries Jo Goodhew. These opportunities to preview the UNIpod and HIVE CH book sit alongside an impressive line-up of international prefabrication speakers and local innovative construction heroes at PrefabNZ’s CoLab event on April 6-8 in Auckland.

PrefabNZ is the hub for prebuilt construction - a non-profit member-driven organisation intent on educating, information and advocating for better ways to design and build in the digital era. The dynamic group of over 200 member organisations span across architecture, manufacturing and building towards a future where designing and making become more integrated as computer-based technology and machinery evolve.

PrefabNZ is headed by a voluntary board of passionate design and construction industry experts. The board is thrilled to announce and warmly welcome new Board member Ree Anderson. Daiman Otto, PrefabNZ Board Chair says, "PrefabNZ is absolutely delighted to second Ree Anderson to the board to help us advance strategy and work around affordable housing, integrated development and industry collaboration - particularly in preparation for a potential new HIVE Home Innovation Village project.

Ree brings significant expertise and a fantastic reputation in leading change in the built environment, most recently as Project Director Housing, for Auckland Council. We look forward to working strategically with Ree as increased pressures on affordability and quality continue to dominate the built environment into 2016 and beyond."

It is an exciting and tremendously busy time in New Zealand’s prefabrication industry - as it works to increase the understanding of innovative technologies and developments like the UNIpod and future permanent HIVE Home Innovation Village.

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