Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Kiwi Prefab: Prefabricated Housing in New Zealand: an Historical and Contemporary Overview with Recommendations for the Future

posted on 2022-03-01, 01:20 authored by Pamela Bell
If architecture could adapt itself to... succeed in the prefabricated house business, then it might recover some of the influence that it has lost in the last thirty years and begin to make a real difference to the quality of the built environment (Davies 10). The role of the architect has been eroded from that of master architect to a coordinator of consultants (Kieran and Timberlake 29). The prefabricated house offers lessons in popularity, accessibility, and industrial production. Therefore, the challenge of the prefabricated house to the architecture profession is to reconcile artistic expression with commercial realities and reengage with the construction industry and public (Davies 10). This thesis sets out to discover a future kiwi prefab, by investigating an unrealised potential for architect-designed prefabricated housing in New Zealand. It takes a holistic view of prefabricated housing products, systems and businesses in order to determine practical recommendations to move the industry forward towards greater uptake of prefabrication. This aim responds to a critique of the history of architect-designed prefabricated housing as, "a long continuum of noble failures" (Davies 9). Contrastingly, non-architect-designed prefabricated housing has experienced commercial success. This is evident in New Zealand's established transportable housing industry, the worldwide use of pre-nailed components in traditional construction, and the United States-based modular and manufactured housing industries. This research starts with an introduction to prefabrication, its typologies and terminology, and its established relationships with architecture and sustainability. The previously little-known stories of prefabricated housing in New Zealand to 2009 are documented through interviews and case studies. This process of exploring and recording historical and contemporary exemplars reveals specific attitudes and approaches to issues which are then summarised and discussed. The resulting lessons reveal a need to focus on challenges and opportunities in two key areas of research and development, and marketing and communication. The significant outcome of this research is recommendations for prefabricated housing strategies in New Zealand in 2010 and beyond. An argument is made that implemented strategic actions will lead to increased understanding of prefabrication's merits and greater uptake. Three key outcomes are a potential for a hybrid module-plus-panel typology, the need for industry cooperation and consolidation, and the formation of a marketing association to facilitate communication. The recommended strategies are then assessed in the context of New Zealand's forecast housing industry, with resulting predictions and suggestions for further research and action steps in the near future. An important finding from this investigation is the role of prefabricated housing in innovation, research and marketing for the wider architecture profession and construction industry.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains All Rights

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Architecture

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Architecture


Southcombe, Mark