While multi-storey buildings have usually grabbed less attention in the prefab space, attention to larger housing solutions has been gathering momentum. The University of Sydney and construction heavyweight Lendlease were awarded a multi-million dollar 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, has been designing and building prototype multi-storey housing using high-tech renewable materials and cutting edge manufacturing methods. The project is set to deliver results in 2 years.
Lendlease already has experience in the prefabricating of high-rise buildings. It has a Western Sydney factory where it manufactures the Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) used in prefabs. 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. Prefabrication was also essential to Lendlease’s project at Barangaroo, International House Sydney, which is a six-storey commercial building totally from timber.
Prefabrication is recognised as the way forward in building construction by the industry as it delivers quality yet affordable mass customisable projects faster than traditional on-site construction. The prefabrication of multi-story buildings transforms traditional construction into off-site manufacturing of repetitive components. Currently there are three main structural systems being adopted for modular multi-story buildings
1) Building with a rigid in-situ central core to which the modules are connected
2) A podium structure which acts as a base where modules are placed on top of it
3) Fully modular structure with strategically placed load bearing modules.
Globally, in most developed countries prefabricated building construction is growing. For example, in Sweden the market share of prefabricated building systems in the housing industry was more than 80%. However, in Australia only approximately 3–4% of new building constructions are prefabricated buildings in a year. A major hindrance to the growth of prefabricated building systems in Australia is that systems are developed under commercial and confidential conditions. This means that there are limited publicly-available research and case studies for certifiers, regulators, engineers and academia to provide independent information on the structural performance, advantages and disadvantages of prefabricated building systems.
This is why the research project from the University of Sydney and Lendlease is important. Research in other countries has shown that prefabricated construction offers high potential to improve the efficiency and performance of the Australian construction industry while also being more sustainable.
For insights into how the built environment is being disrupted globally, the Design Futures Council (DFC) is offering ‘Transcend: breaking new ground in the built environment’ – a public lecture series across Australia in early July.