Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Too good to be true?




Nine storey Melbourne apartment goes up in just five days trumpets the headline in a recent Architecture and Design article by Geraldine Chua.

What follows is an article on the latest project by the Hickory Group, the One9 apartment tower in Melbourne, utilising their so-called Unitised Building (UB) System.  Developed and championed by Australian architect Nonda Katsalidis, the UB system relies on factory-based modular construction with high levels of external and internal finishes and fit out, making for fast on-site assembly.

The UB approach is distinguished from others in that it is an open system with neither prescribed module dimensions nor other particular constraints, except for those imposed by the necessity to transport the modules through city streets.
What’s this particular article does not make clear is what the exact part of the whole building is represented by the 36 modules delivered and assembled on site in 120 hours.  The accompanying images strongly suggest that the five days follow site establishment and the completion of a very substantial in-situ concrete service core.  Nor does the article mention or discuss the factory-based lead time culminating in the heroic five-day assembly of the modules on site.

The preceding comments are by no means intended as a knee-jerk rejection of the advantages of moving a substantial part of traditional building construction into the factory.  A change in the proportion of work carried out on the building site, versus work done under controlled conditions of the factory is increasingly appreciated by a number of architects, because factory-based construction not only delivers greater certainty of timeframes, but also appreciably better quality control.

So once again – and even I am getting bored by my own complaint – the problem appears to be the extremely poor quality of online design journalism.  Once again, a brief press release from the architects or the construction firm is uncritically parroted as if it were a news item.  And once again this approach serves more to confound, than to inform.

Fortunately, if you happen to know that the Hickory Group is at least in part Katsalidis in corporate disguise, it’s not hard to find much better information on both the man and building system.  The article you really want to read is Nonda Katsalidis's soaring ambition in The Australian of April 05, 2013 by Luke Slattery available here.  As Slattery points out:

Developers and the architects who serve them have dreamed of a process that might make building as efficient as, say, motor-vehicle production. But the result, where it has been applied in what has been termed "modular construction", has tended towards the unsubtle repetition of units, or boxes, and the production of buildings that look as if they have been extruded on an assembly line. Katsalidis, in contrast, has developed a system of prefabricated construction that allows developers to design projects of considerable nuance, using a variety of floor plans, sizes and finishes, while halving production time and significantly reducing costs. He contends that these buildings are more energy-efficient and lighter than those constructed of slab concrete poured on site.

And more.   It is a genuinely good read.  I guess real journalists can tell you what’s going on, why it’s important, and a lot more besides.  I just wish it didn’t take quite so much detective work to find them.

9 comments:

Allen Cheng said...

From some of the journalist’s perspective, it is their job to report stuff that catch people’s attention and make them shock, that is why in the article “Nine storey Melbourne apartment goes up in just five days”, only focuses on the days it takes from commencement to completion (onsite construction time); the off site preparation time such as the time that each modules are manufactured and assembled has been purposely omitted.

On the other hand, this kind of superficial description has caught minimal attention for architects and designers who tend to find the pros and cons of modular construction; the importance of modular construction and how that system influence the future construction industry.

As an architectural student, my thoughts are that despite of the speed that UB system is able to achieve (which is essential in some cases as most of the work in the contemporary society tend to minimise the timeframe from commence to completion; besides, shorter onsite construction time would create less disruption to the neighbours), it is quite boring to see that apartments have the same floor plan for every units and the dynamic elevation design would be minimized. Therefore, according to Katsalidis and his new construction system, it is essential to allow designers to design buildings using variety of floor plans and finishes while ensuring the quality, surrounding environment and control the cost.


http://www.architectureanddesign.com.au/news/nine-storey-melbourne-apartment-goes-up-in-just-fi
http://everydaylife.globalpost.com/advantages-disadvantages-modular-construction-27124.html
http://homeguides.sfgate.com/pros-cons-modular-housing-1299.html

Lucia said...

It seems that construct on site with dust and noise is already obsolete. Prefabricated building, a type of building with new construction technique has appeared in our view more frequent. I was really shocked by this way of construction when I first saw a video on YouTube last year. The video is about a Chinese company built 30 floors in 15 days in Changsha, China. They used diagonal steel bracing as the structural system and prefabbed all the components of building in the factory, such as bracing, floor slab, water pipe and curtain wall. All they need to do outside the factory is just to transport these components to site and assemble them together, just like Hickory Group did in Melbourne.

I think this technique is really advanced and reasonable and it would be used widely in the future for some reasons. Firstly, it shorten the construction time on site dramatically. The traditional construction had to work on site limited by many aspects such as weather condition and the rest time of your neighbor. All these limitation lead to the long-time construction on site. But with the technique of prefab, all the needed components can be fabricated off site a few months in advance. Second, it is safer than traditional way. Because most of the work has been done in the factory, workers no longer need to do as many complex works on scaffold as before. Then, the site can keep clean and quiet is also a good reason.

In the end, I would like to share some more interesting prefab projects and hope they are useful.
30 floors in 15 days: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hdpf-MQM9vY
Muhlenberg College Project: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ybpjJBgh3Q4
The Factory Building the World's Tallest Prefab: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9FHaUxfXp8w

Jennifer Su said...

Firstly, I concur with your above comments regarding the article ‘Nine storey Melbourne apartment goes up in just five days’ by Geraldine Chua. In no way is this article false, but headings can be misleading. The goal of online journalism is to capture the attention of the reader through, and this is perfectly exemplified in the claim that ‘five days’ is what it takes for the assembly of the building. In fact, the process is much longer. Building prefabrication/ modular construction involves a strict schedule of offsite factory preparation and onsite groundwork (excavation, establishing a foundation) that occurs simultaneously before the process of onsite assembly can commence.

Having said that, there is no denying however, that modular construction is becoming a more and more prominent feature of Australian construction. Modular construction has meant that site disturbances such as noise and traffic flow can be minimised, along with the benefits of better quality control, less material waste, lower risk of safety associated with construction and obviously, a more efficient and feasible construction process. http://www.modular.org/htmlPage.aspx?name=why_modular

Benefits aside, as an architecture student I feel that the real limitations with these modular systems is that they lack variability in architectural character, especially with medium-rise residential buildings that so often comprise of repeating units. Also, the fact that modular systems have traditionally used in temporary shelters, portable classrooms and cheaper housing make me question its permanence. http://www.lightwave.com.au/architecture/permanent-modular-construction-%E2%80%93-what-is-it-really/. The challenge now is to move away from such ‘standardised’ units of construction, which often forces designers to adapt their design to the constraints of a set system.

That is why I was surprisingly impressed when looking into the Unitised Building (UB) System of the Hickory Group. It uses a facade cladding system that is individually designed and clad offsite on each module. http://www.hickory.com.au/prefab. ‘Klik’ by Elenberg Fraser and Hickory Building systems has taken this a step further and integrated a system where customisation in each and every component of the building is possible. “Each component of the building is pre-designed, pre-engineered and produced to the exact measurements of the final product in the manufacturing production line’ .The link: http://www.klikaustralia.com.au/how-it-works/timeline.phps, quite interestingly depicts a series of design choices the client and developer can make. First, a building type is selected, its shape, promptly followed by the selecting of apartment types, interior schemes and the finally its façade treatment (level of articulation, linearity, and use of external shading devices).

HAE WOO PARK said...

I agree with above opinions that the article is mostly referring how long onsite construction took or how long to go up, and it enumerates bits of positive information of UB system such like advertisement. Furthermore, the article omitted the illustration of constructional principles. The significant drawbacks of modular construction are narrow dimension of unit by limited choices of transport methods and durability. From the statement of the article, “ We can manufacture unit to almost any dimensions…no theoretical height limitation and currently being specifies buildings up to 70 storeys”, I imagined how they deliver each module and how they are stable to stand up to 70 storeys, and it required researching again to find out the methods. As an architecture student and as a reader, the interesting information is how they solve the several drawbacks of existing modular construction method rather than which is solved.
From several articles, it is indicated that UB system is a great construction method brining several potential benefits such as reduction of time consuming and minimized disruptions to neighbors, and recyclability of materials. Furthermore, UB system is a great construction method that can provide better workplace conditions, and giving more employee diversity than traditional building sites. According to Nonda Katsalidis, “UB represents improved conditions for construction workers because they aren’t working at heights, they don’t need to wear hard hats, there are more opportunities for women, and it is a great training ground for apprentices”. Therefore, from the several benefits of UB, it indicates that UB system is a great revolutionary construction technique and it might be the way of future building.

Uitised building Australia: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VmBbSP6oNTM
Nonda katsalidis profile: http://www.unitisedbuilding.com/documents/press/Steel_Profile_111___Nonda_Katsalidis.pdf
Advantage and disadvantages of modular construction: http://everydaylife.globalpost.com/advantages-disadvantages-modular-construction-27124.html
9 storey eco-friendly Melbourne apartment building goes up in 5 days: http://www.treehugger.com/modular-design/9-storey-eco-friendly-melbourne-apartment-building-goes-5-days.html

Anonymous said...

Talks of prefabricated buildings have become more frequent recently, and one particular website that interested me was about a new business called ‘house delivery’ which is similar to a pizza delivery.

Disregarding the misleading title of ‘5 days’ in the headline, the unitised building (UB) in a way has indeed achieved a certain extent of innovation. The particularity of the UB system that is different from other module buildings in the world is that it breaks the limit of fixed design in size and height. The UB system in one hand, is promoted by its ‘extraordinary’ sustainability compared with traditional construction methods. Specifically,its mentioned that the UB system boasts a one hundred percentage of material recyclability during construction while the traditional construction methods is only a quarter of it. In addition,its also remarkable for its light-weight construction, which is a very important aspect to consider for transportation, as it is a big issue for construction.

The modular building still requires some polishing however, such as the limits of architectural approach to the building façade, the variety of floor plans, life span, and transportation. The UB system provides innovational ways of what the city can become. It is easy to imagine the building that is constructed in the factory and assembled quickly on site. Buildings would rise up in few days which significantly reduces noise during construction and factory construction on the other hand, is not influenced by weather condition and other exterior conditions, which provides a safer working environment for workers as well.

In a way, the prefabricated building method is preferable to a wide variety of construction methods. I am really looking forward to see that we are approaching a better way to build our home efficiently and environmentally, no matter if it is prefabricated building or traditional building, or perhaps new ways in the future.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VmBbSP6oNTM
youtube
http://one9apartments.com.au/sustainable-living
one9apartment
http://www.architectureanddesign.com.au/news/nine-storey-melbourne-apartment-goes-up-in-just-fi
news
http://www.hickory.com.au/who-we-are/our-approach/
hickory

Anonymous said...

Construction using prefabricated modular units has always been around but is coming back into the limelight and is becoming more common today. Intrigued by its varied advantages, many construction companies and architects are using this construction technology to create innovative modular housing designs.

Benefits of modular units outweigh the drawbacks in many ways. Housing components are being prefabricated section by section in factories, delivered to the site and then assembled. This drastically reduces construction time on site, since there are no wet weather delays in constructing the units indoors, and components can be specifically assembled on site. Production under factory-controlled conditions results in more precise and accurate construction than on site based building methods, also leads to decreased material waste, and simplified on-site logistics. Modular construction also provides opportunity to optimize supply chain capability for on time and cost effective project delivery. Disruption to the surroundings, which include noise and dust, would also be reduced.

Such construction technology is however still premature and only early adopters are supportive. Others may feel that such modular units are inferior since they are not constructed the traditional way. But in actual fact, modular homes are designed according to the building codes and can be worthy alternatives to traditionally constructed homes. People in this group may not have accepted the fact of prefabrication, but will gradually come to terms with it in future. Also, with components being put together off-site in factories. A portion of labour previously required on site would be obsolete, and hence may impact the jobs and skillset of the construction industry.

I feel that modular construction can be a solution to the increase in population and shortage of affordable housing in many societies. Furthermore, in situations where disasters might occur, prefabricated modular units would be useful in replacing homes since construction time is much shorter.

http://www.maddocks.com.au/uploads/articles/lego-land-melbourne-the-advantages-tips-and-traps-of-modular-construction.pdf

http://www.triumphmodular.com/blog/modular-construction-benefits

http://www.architectureanddesign.com.au/news/nine-storey-melbourne-apartment-goes-up-in-just-fi

SHUO ZHANG said...

The advantages of using modular construction are obviously. They include high quality, decreased material waste, less disruption to the surrounding environment, innovative efficient and shorter time to completion. Many companies as Hickory Group have applied modular construction to residential housing design. Despite all of these benefits, there could be room for improvement. Firstly, offsite construction methods are lack of understanding of sustainability. For example, a temporary house built by SeARCH which shown as a personal but also utopian vision on living in the early 21st century. The form of this temporary house, which is, refers to traditional nomadic dwellings. It made by innovative steel construction intentionally refers to the originally most used and minimal construction in the world. I think the best way to improve sustainability architecture can is simplifying our design; creating a quality life space by minimum needs.

Recent Pritzker winner Shigeru Ban’s work best clarified the idea of ‘modular construction’ in sustainability way. Ban developed Modular Shelter for homeless in Japan. The shelter is made from cardboard panels and paper tubes but provides individuals with privacy and a small personal space during the trial time. Ban brought this original idea into his further design, like Christchurch Cathedral. In Ban’s opinion, there was no difference between permanent design and temporary design. Paper structure could be permanent if people like it. In the same time, sustainable materials have more potential. In China, concrete commercial buildings built by developers are very temporary. After a new district developed, they destroy old buildings to build new towers. A sustainable modular building creates possibilities if city developer wants to remove buildings in economical way.

There is a worked example to the contrary; Qatar world cup recently announced that they tend to scale back the number of stadiums from 12 to minimum requirement of 8. The whole construction program is exceed $200 billion, which is more than four times what Russia spent on the Sochi Olympic venues. With limited time and high working pressure, it followed by the death of migrant workers on World Cup construction sites in Qatar. It has rise up to an issue of labor safety.
Modular construction seems play a more important role in this case. It could minimize the onsite work and creates less disruption to the surrounding community.

All in all, Modular Construction as a new technique appeared in our view will be developing and polishing as practice. Developed from ‘fast food’ to a ‘green diet’.

http://www.search.nl/#!content/yourtopia-update-3
http://inhabitat.com/shigeru-ban-develops-modular-shelter-for-japanese-displaced-by-earthquake/temporary-shelter-japan-4/
http://inhabitat.com/nyc/new-york-times-cities-for-tomorrow-conference-spotlights-shigeru-ban-as-an-architect-of-social-change/
http://www.metropolismag.com/Point-of-View/April-2014/In-the-Midst-of-Controversy-Qatar-Cancels-Four-World-Cup-Stadiums/

TaoweiZhou said...

As an article the goal is to attract more reader to read, the “5 days” could be a strong misleading to achieve the goal. They ignore 60% to 90% factory build intentionally.

Although the article exaggerated efficiency of prefabrication building, this system still have obvious benefits. Such as accelerated Construction Process, quality and Sustainable. That is why prefabrication building became more and more popular in Australia. Less site disturbance makes it working well in city, school and residential area. It also works well in financial way. Due to the simultaneous process of creating modules in a factory at the same time site work is occurring, modular buildings can be constructed in up to half the time as buildings built completely onsite. This allows the buildings to be occupied sooner and allows owners to see a faster return on investment.

On the other hand, prefabrication building has its disadvantages. First of all, prefabrication modules construct in factor, transfer modules form factory to site may become a challenge. For instance in a crowded city moving and constructing big module in site could be a big problem. Secondly limited design characteristic might be another problem. One of a benefits of the prefabrication building cost saving become a limitation. (We can’t design ever particular prefabrication building.)

Overall, prefabrication building have lots of benefits and traditional building method also has its benefit. We should chose the better way to build a building no matter it is prefabrication building or traditional building.

TaoweiZhou said...

As an article the goal is to attract more reader to read, the “5 days” could be a strong misleading to achieve the goal. They ignore 60% to 90% factory build intentionally.

Although the article exaggerated efficiency of prefabrication building, this system still have obvious benefits. Such as accelerated Construction Process, quality and Sustainable. That is why prefabrication building became more and more popular in Australia. Less site disturbance makes it working well in city, school and residential area. It also works well in financial way. Due to the simultaneous process of creating modules in a factory at the same time site work is occurring, modular buildings can be constructed in up to half the time as buildings built completely onsite. This allows the buildings to be occupied sooner and allows owners to see a faster return on investment.

On the other hand, prefabrication building has its disadvantages. First of all, prefabrication modules construct in factor, transfer modules form factory to site may become a challenge. For instance in a crowded city moving and constructing big module in site could be a big problem. Secondly limited design characteristic might be another problem. One of a benefits of the prefabrication building cost saving become a limitation. (We can’t design ever particular prefabrication building.)

Overall, prefabrication building have lots of benefits and traditional building method also has its benefit. We should chose the better way to build a building no matter it is prefabrication building or traditional building.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/17/nyregion/17yards.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0