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Winning hearts and minds for factory-built homes

Winning hearts and minds for factory-built homes

Design-and-build company Box has opened its first dedicated off-site production facility in an industrial space in West Auckland.

The 900sq m factory in Henderson occupies part of the former Alloy Yachts premises, and construction of the company’s first house began recently.

“Building off-site is the future of the New Zealand building industry,” Box chief executive Dan Heyworth says. “Our business is beset with archaic methodologies that can’t keep up with the demand for housing.”

The company — the only registered architectural practice and Registered Master Builder in New Zealand — invested in significant research and development before pursuing the new venture.

This included a fact-finding mission to Melbourne-based housing prefabricators Arkit and Modscape, and a tour of factories in Scandinavia organised by the Swedish Wood Building Council.

At 84%, Sweden has the highest percentage of pre-built houses in the world, and is the global market leader in this space.

Box operations manager Matt Chernishov will be responsible for overseeing the processes within the production facility.

“We will be implementing lean manufacturing philosophies — a system originally devised by Toyota in the 1930s,” Mr Chernishov says.

The factory is set up for volumetric construction where the windows, doors and, in many cases, the floor, will be put together in module form. These modules are transported to site by truck, joined up and connected to the services on site.

Industrialised construction and modularisation allows shorter build schedules, and more efficient use of materials and labour.

But the company, which is well known for its modernist aesthetic, acknowledges one of the challenges is changing the mindset of
New Zealanders who often view pre-built homes as of lesser quality.

“There needs to be an education process about the value of working within a well-organised, controlled environment, and an understanding of how a kitset of elements has the potential to be personalised,” Mr Heyworth says.

As well as one-off homes for clients, the company has introduced a premium pre-built product, named Box Ten. This is a system of 10 modules no bigger than 10sq m each that can be configured online by the client and joined together up to 60sq m to suit a brief and a site.

The factory-built product is aimed at anyone requiring a small habitable space, and will cater to the demand for infill housing that has emerged as a result of urban intensification.

“It’s an architectural offering that still has the Box DNA, and is designed with full-height glazing and internal doors so the modules don’t feel like a cabin,” Mr Chernishov explains.

In taking the step to invest in their own off-site home manufacturing facility, Box hopes to fill a need in the market among government departments, multi-unit developers, and even first home buyers for quality design built efficiently.

“Sweden and Japan are well ahead of the game when it comes to industrialised construction. This is the way the local industry has to go too,” Mr Heyworth says.

“New Zealand needs to build differently to replenish badly built stock and keep up with the demand for quality housing.”

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