Grand Designs Australia

Embracing Prefabrication for Residential Buildings

Building a prefabricated home doesn’t have to be ‘rough and ready’ or lack design vision. The attention to detail and product quality obtained on prefabrication can benefit the project in more ways than one!

Photographer Ralph Alfonso, who has a very strong sense of how precious our environment is and how little space we really need to live in, has come up with his own downsized style of living in an inner-city suburb of East Melbourne. His focus is to build a house for one … or maybe two, using a ground-breaking and innovative environmental design. The house is built on a small block measuring 5x4 metres and will be stacked three storeys high.

The aim behind this project was twofold. One was to build only as much as you need and the other to be as sustainable as possible. However, when you dissect both aims you understand that by building only what is needed you are addressing sustainability at its core. Reducing the footprint on the environment addresses the impact we as individuals have on the planet. A prefabrication approach helped address the client’s clear aims:

  • Construction time reduction
    Prefabrication or modular construction condenses the construction process by undertaking offsite and onsite work in tandem. This can be seen in parts of this project. The ground and first floor proved to be time consuming and tested the precision of the floor structure. However, as they progressed up the building the benefits were clear: the shell of the building was erected in just two days.
  • Disruption to neighbours and traffic
    Since the building is erected much quicker and less onsite small materials are needed, the building period is decreased and any associated disturbances to neighbours or traffic will be reduced.
  • Reduced material requirements and waste
    The accuracy of the prefabrication through the engineering process and manufacturing quality control means less materials are used and wasted.
  • Less transport energy
    Transport is minimised by not moving small materials to site. Reducing transport movement not only saves time; it also minimises emissions, air pollution and traffic congestion.
  • Increased material recyclability
    Planning can lead to an increase in material recyclability as is the case in this Mini Skyscraper project - 90% of timber used in the project came from certified sources, and in most cases from shorter offcuts that would generally not be used and therefore wasted.
  • Reduced carbon footprint
    The Mini Skyscraper achieved a reduced carbon footprint in a number of ways. They limited the built area to only what was needed, they tapped into geothermal energy to even out the internal temperature of the house and used solar energy where possible. In addition, the selection of materials and products assisted in helping reduce the carbon footprint over the life of the building. The use of double glazing on the windows reduced draft and minimised leaks in the house and NASA-developed insulation helped seal the building.
  • Quality of design and product
    This can be achieved through prefabrication as it allows for innovation through experimentation with new materials and construction methods. Prefabrication can form part or all of the construction process, allowing for design flexibility to suit the client’s specific needs. The precision of the manufacturing controls the quality of the product.

Other projects using prefabrication

Below are some examples of homes where the use of prefabrication forms part of the building playing a significant role in the outcome. These projects are changing the preconception that prefabrication is of boring, cheap, undesirable and only for commercial projects. They demonstrate that prefabrication and modules can be used successfully for unique residential projects!

Project Alphington by Modscape.

Image: Modscape

Project Alphington uses Modscape modules. Each module is a welded structural steel frame that uses structurally insulated panels to create an insulated cell.  The modules can be used to create any special configuration and can be manufactured to suit any site or design. Silvertop ash cladding was selected for the facade of this project, as the timber will turn silver over time and match the surrounding bush setting. However, finish options for this type of building are limitless!

Clovelly Prefab House by Prebuilt

Image: The Clovelly prefab house by Prebuilt was featured on Grand Designs Australia.

This double-storey modern prefab house clad in zinc and timber was designed by Pleysier Perkins Architects and constructed in Melbourne by the building company Prebuilt. The house was then transported to Sydney in four trucks.  Modular prefabricated buildings like these can be ‘higher end’ and aesthetically significant.

Balaclava House by ArchiBlox

Image: ArchiBlox

The Balaclava House consists of a modern two-level modular addition to an existing structure. Spaces are configured to create intimacy while allowing the kitchen to open up to both dining and separate living area; while upstairs you'll find a classic ArchiBlox learning corridor with 2 additional bedrooms and bathroom.

For more information, visit

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