Nine storey Melbourne apartment goes up in just five days trumpets the headline in a recent Architecture and Design article by Geraldine Chua.
What follows is an article on the latest project by the Hickory Group, the One9 apartment tower in Melbourne, utilising their so-called Unitised Building (UB) System. Developed and championed by Australian architect Nonda Katsalidis, the UB system relies on factory-based modular construction with high levels of external and internal finishes and fit out, making for fast on-site assembly.
The UB approach is distinguished from others in that it is an open system with neither prescribed module dimensions nor other particular constraints, except for those imposed by the necessity to transport the modules through city streets.
What’s this particular article does not make clear is what the exact part of the whole building is represented by the 36 modules delivered and assembled on site in 120 hours. The accompanying images strongly suggest that the five days follow site establishment and the completion of a very substantial in-situ concrete service core. Nor does the article mention or discuss the factory-based lead time culminating in the heroic five-day assembly of the modules on site.
The preceding comments are by no means intended as a knee-jerk rejection of the advantages of moving a substantial part of traditional building construction into the factory. A change in the proportion of work carried out on the building site, versus work done under controlled conditions of the factory is increasingly appreciated by a number of architects, because factory-based construction not only delivers greater certainty of timeframes, but also appreciably better quality control.
So once again – and even I am getting bored by my own complaint – the problem appears to be the extremely poor quality of online design journalism. Once again, a brief press release from the architects or the construction firm is uncritically parroted as if it were a news item. And once again this approach serves more to confound, than to inform.
Fortunately, if you happen to know that the Hickory Group is at least in part Katsalidis in corporate disguise, it’s not hard to find much better information on both the man and building system. The article you really want to read is Nonda Katsalidis's soaring ambition in The Australian of April 05, 2013 by Luke Slattery available here. As Slattery points out:
Developers and the architects who serve them have dreamed of a process that might make building as efficient as, say, motor-vehicle production. But the result, where it has been applied in what has been termed "modular construction", has tended towards the unsubtle repetition of units, or boxes, and the production of buildings that look as if they have been extruded on an assembly line. Katsalidis, in contrast, has developed a system of prefabricated construction that allows developers to design projects of considerable nuance, using a variety of floor plans, sizes and finishes, while halving production time and significantly reducing costs. He contends that these buildings are more energy-efficient and lighter than those constructed of slab concrete poured on site.
And more. It is a genuinely good read. I guess real journalists can tell you what’s going on, why it’s important, and a lot more besides. I just wish it didn’t take quite so much detective work to find them.