Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Quality Assembly: Designing to offsite fabrication for medium density living in New Zealand

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Version 2 2023-09-26, 23:58
Version 1 2021-12-07, 23:36
posted on 2023-09-26, 23:58 authored by Dunn, H. M.

This research portfolio looks at how consciously activating prefabrication into the design process early, and subsequently designing to the onsite assembly stage by using three key design principles, can contribute to a responsive design that embodies quality medium density living in New Zealand.  Prefabrication is at the forefront of the New Zealand Government’s conversation about its residential construction industry. The potential attributes of this efficient construction method of fast on-site installation time, reduced cost, improved construction safety, and improved construction quality, have the potential to positively impact the issues that our housing industry faces.  However, the intrinsic limitations that come with prefabrication being based on the ideals of efficiency, carry the risk (as seen throughout its history) of compromising the design quality. With the motivation to integrate this construction process into New Zealand’s commonplace residential construction industry based on its positive attributes, it is essential to address its relationship to the designed outcome, and consequently the design process.  Ryan E. Smith of Washington State University in Prefab Architecture expresses that prefabrication is a construction process not a product so a poor design results from a poor designer. He specifies that for a prefabrication project to achieve quality construction and aesthetics the design process must be directed to “quality assembly”. This idea endorses the integration of this chosen construction process in accordance with the design intent and guide the design through various scales to the detailing of assembly.  For this integration of ‘quality assembly’ into the design process three principles have been interpreted from founding literature as being key drivers: standardisation, repetition, and personalisation. Standardisation is the act of simplifications to efficiently design. Based on chosen factors measurements are controlled allowing pieces, elements, and/or units to relate to one another cleanly. Repetition is the act of reducing variances within the construction, maximising the efficiency of prefabrication. Traditionally this can improve quality. Personalisation is the principle that relates the desirability of the outcome with the necessity appropriately suiting its site and occupancy.  This research is positioned within New Zealand’s residential climate, which is seeing a growing demand for medium density living. The defined programme accommodates two key demographics within this density of first-home buyers and homeowners downsizing. The focus is to design a system that assists quality living – giving an alternative archetype – for New Zealand’s evolving climate.  Key findings from this research support the design intent of ‘designing to assembly’, whereby the construction process and the outcome are integral to one another. By focussing collectively on standardisation, repetition, and personalisation, a responsive design that is suitable to various sites and occupancies can be realised. The challenge lies within balancing flexibility with restriction efficiently.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Architecture (Professional)

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Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Architecture


Christian-Wilhelm, Hans