A highly insulated prefabricated modular pod made in Melbourne has won this year’s Good Design Award for Commercial and Residential Architecture.
The Harwyn provides a solution for affordable, sustainable, office, recreation and granny flat accommodation, managing director Jason Fremder said.
Mr Fremder initiated the design concept about two-and-a-half years ago while working from home in his car parked in the driveway to escape noise levels in the house.
“I thought, this is what I need, an office space like my car,” Mr Fremder told The Fifth Estate.
He asked Melbourne architect Selwyn Blackstone to develop a design for a prefabricated, modular and small space that could be used as self-contained office space.
The resulting Harwyn pods combine Alucobond cladding with insulated sandwich panels to create a well-sealed and highly insulated building fabric that is lightweight enough that concrete foundations are not required.
Instead, the pods are craned into position on top of paving slabs with a screw jack used to ensure they are level.
The window placement has been designed for cross-ventilation and good natural light and each pod has full-width sliding glass doors.
Double-glazing is an option for colder climates and all glass is solar-rated to reduce thermal transference. Mr Blackstone said the cladding sits beyond the panels, making an air gap and reducing thermal transference. As all the walls, ceiling and floor panels are load-bearing, there is no framing involved.
There is also no plasterboard required in the interiors, reducing the materials footprint of the buildings considerably and all the construction materials that are used are low-VOC, as are the MDF and Laminex used for the joinery and the floor coverings.
LED lighting is installed as well as airconditioning and full data and communications cabling.
Mr Fremder said achieving the level of fine detail and a high quality finish was something the factory-based manufacturing process could achieve.
The basic single pods are being manufactured in sizes between 2.4m x 2.6m and 3.15m x 5.3m.
Mr Blackstone said that as well as pods with made-to-order interior fitouts for office, meeting, recreation or study spaces, the company had designed pods that could be used as granny flat accommodation comprising a bedroom pod with a small bathroom bolted to a second pod with kitchen and living area.
“They are pretty much like a caravan – anything you can do to a caravan, we can do to this,” he said.
“Prefabricated building has been around so long, but it is only now starting to come into its own.”
At a recent Australian Institute of Architects forum on prefabrication he said the majority of presentations were around design concepts more tailored to multi-storey construction than small stand-alone buildings.
“We are operating in the small-scale area, we are not trying to make houses, but they could be,” Mr Blackstone said.
“I think it’s early days [for modular construction] in Australia. And while there are a lot of companies now starting to do it, a lot are using the same products and producing the traditional framed product with steel or timber framing.”
Other refinements that have been added to the initial Harwyn design include pods with roof gardens, front decking and awnings.
The company is researching rainwater capture and storage systems that may use bladder water storage under the floor of the pods.
In future they plan on developing pods with solar panels and battery storage that can operate off-grid.
“I would like to predict that two years from now we will have the first off-grid pod. It really lends itself to solar from a design point of view because [solar] is not an afterthought, it will be built-in.
Mr Fremder said winning the award for him proved that “if you think it, you can do it”.
“Nowadays technology has caught up to our imaginations,” he said.
He said the core aim with the pods was a product that, like a computer or a car, could be easily ordered, rapidly delivered and plugged in.
“One of the things I wanted to solve [for people] was the need to engage a builder.”
The first Harwyns went into production a year ago and to date 12 have been sold and installed, the majority to Melbourne buyers.
Mr Fremder said there are more orders in the six-week production pipeline currently and that the company is in talks with several potential volume purchasers.
This will allow it to convert the current contract workforce to full-time direct employees, something he said is vital for ongoing quality control.
Mr Fremder said six years he spent living in an 11 sq m unit in Tokyo influenced his thinking in developing the pods, as his experience was that these types of small spaces, if they were well-designed and efficient, could be comfortable and lead to a lifestyle with reduced levels of clutter.
“Once you get used to [living in small spaces], it’s wonderful. It’s so efficient.”