Speaker, Tamara DiMattina, who bills herself as “chief everything officer: Trumpet; founder, The New Joneses; and creator, Buy Nothing New Month

The mood from the speakers and delegates at the prefabAUS event in Sydney this week was strong, as you’d expect from a national conference celebrating pretty much the first serious revolution in construction, pretty much since lifts arrived on the scene and enabled high rise.

The Fifth Estate dipped in to parts of the three day event hosted by the University of Sydney Department of Architecture, Planning and Design at the Seymour Centre, just across the park from our Glebe offices. But while the content on the floor was engaging, with expectations that the industry could jump from 3 per cent of construction now to 10 per cent by 2020 and other upbeat sentiment, just as interesting were the background briefings, that hinted at big commercial contracts about to be signed and large developers tapping the upmarket housing product. We covered some of the industry participants, established and new, earlier this week, (See prefabAus conference shows industry on a roll). Also on the scene were the Caroline Pidcock, of Pidcock Architects, an sustainability leader in design and a Living Building Institute director, Ken McBryde, a principal at HASSELL and Damien Crough, a founding director of prefabAus.

Speaker, Tamara DiMattina, who bills herself as “chief everything officer: Trumpet; founder, The New Joneses; and creator, Buy Nothing New Month
Caroline Pidcock, Pidcock Architects, amongst a selection of delgates
Glen Cairncross at the Weathertex stand
Ken McBryde, HASSELL
A final panel session, with from left: James Cameron, executive director, Australian Construction Industry Forum; Nicole Sullivan, technical solutions manager, Green Building Council of Australia; Ryan Smith, University of Utah; Ken McBryde, Hassell

We were also alerted to an interesting piece of research that had been quietly sitting on the Forest and Wood Products website, largely unpublicised. We’ve covered Overcoming Psychological Barriers to Widespread Acceptance of Mass Timber Construction in Australia, by Dr Paul Kremer and Dr Mark Symmons, in this article, How to convince people massive timber is not a massive risk

The presence of Tamara DiMattina on the speakers list, with her Buy Nothing New and The New Joneses concepts, both of which have had huge publicity, will certainly add to the magnet of interest around this sector.

Other highlights included professor Marc Norman from Harvard University Graduate School of Design who curated the Designing Affordability: Quicker, Smarter, More Efficient Housing Now recently at the Centre for Architecture in New York, also featured at prefabAUS 2016.

Modular construction promised more affordable solutions, he said.

It held “the promise of quicker construction timeframes, consistency and better construction quality management. While originally confined to low rise structures, this method is now bringing innovative design to mid-rise and high-rise housing,” he told delegates.

“Developers, individuals, governments and architects are designing affordable solutions and creating models for addressing the crisis and creating new opportunities for us all,” Professor Norman said.

The keynote address from award-winning architect and author associate Professor Ryan Smith, from The University of Utah’s Integrated Technology in Architecture Centre, who said modular construction cut costs by 16 per cent and reduced time by 45 per cent compared with traditional builds.

“The biggest challenges the construction industry faces in adopting off-site methods are the difficulties with regulatory authorities, transportation logistics, coordination with designers and industry knowledge.”

Another presenter on timber in mid-rise buildings was Italian author and expert in industrial technologies Dr Paolo Lavisci who is also former chief executive officer of Italian Timber Design Bureau.