Hayball's David Tweedie on the evolution of prefabrication in schools

Hayball's David Tweedie on the evolution of prefabrication in schools
Hayball's David Tweedie on the evolution of prefabrication in schools

In today's piece, Hayball Director David Tweedie provides Urban.com.au with insight and commentary on the (r)evolutionary journey of prefabrication within the education sector - including benefits for schools, design professionals and the planet.

According to Tweedie, the advantages associated with a swift on-site build time, minimal disruption to school environments and unprecedented sustainability benefits, is providing prefabrication with the impetus to rebuild the education sector.

Though the term itself can often conjure images of badly-ventilated, non code-compliant, aesthetically-challenging temporary classrooms to which previous generations were subjected, thankfully, says Tweedie, portable and demountable classrooms are only one expression of prefabrication.

We’re entering a new era of permanent, and inarguably sustainable, high-quality buildings constructed with prefabrication methodology – a new era, ripe with benefits for intelligent school design, construction and regeneration.

Prefabrication itself, refers to the design of elements or significant volumes of a building for offsite construction. It comes in many different forms – from accurately-constructed 2D elements reminiscent of large-scale IKEA flatpacks, through to shipping container-scale unitised building systems that consist of entire prefabricated units.

It’s already becoming a default technique for many small-scale residential projects and for facade construction. But its sophisticated design, material and construction techniques are gaining new traction in education projects, from kindergarten to tertiary, thanks to a number of factors.

- David Tweedie, Director Hayball

Hayball's David Tweedie on the evolution of prefabrication in schools
Prefabrication has many benefits and applications says David Tweedie.

Speaking from his own experiences at Hayball David Tweedie outlines, in his own words, the many advantages of adopting prefabrication methods and technology in greater detail below;

1. Lightning-fast delivery times, with minimal onsite disruption

From kindergartens to universities, development projects pose major disruptions in the lives of the school community. These concerns aren’t confined to noise pollution or safety: if we’re master-planning a new science centre, current learning activities must be moved somewhere else while the new facility is built – a resource-intensive, time-heavy and highly-inconvenient endeavour.

With prefabrication, a lot of the groundwork – both in design and construction – is done before it reaches the school.

For example, we designed The Learning Project at Caulfield Grammar for offsite construction - and the finished building was installed on campus in an unprecedented single day’s work on-site. Further interior work was required, but the bulk of the project was completed without significant interruption to student and staff routines.

Similarly, in our hybrid design of the La Trobe St Student Accommodation project in Melbourne’s CBD, construction was completed during extended hours due to the low levels of noise disruption – realising unparalleled productivity on-site, and an overall reduction in the construction timeframe.

2. Flexibility to meet future learning requirements

Fast turnaround also enables quick delivery of innovative learning programs, as seen at The Learning Project at Caulfield Grammar. An accelerated prefabrication construction process allowed the institution to roll-out a new learning program to students without having to stall or work around construction sites for months awaiting facility completion.

This outcome is a sure marker on the road to an industry where new education techniques, trends and environments can be implemented and, more importantly, tested – with almost-immediate effect (instead of embarking on long disruptive developments to enable learning spaces or programs that, by the time the facilities are finished, are considered outdated).

Prefabrication is impacting the very way we think about modern learning environments, too. Certain design manifestations (2D in particular) lend themselves to mass customisation with infinite configuration options, and more modular, plug-and-play designs help to adapt school environments to meet inevitably changing needs.

Furthermore, with quick demolition, removal and replacement possibilities, we can implement a considered, customised school design or replace legacy buildings with relative ease – a benefit that government and private education institutions are currently exploring to help replace old facilities in various locations around Australia.

3. Value for money and quality control

Challenges for the prefabrication industry include the capacity to deliver at scale, and adapting to the inflationary roller coaster of busy or quiet times. As the industry matures, fast site build time will begin to equate to unparalleled savings, especially in first world countries where on-site labour is costly and safety regulations are stringent.

In Australia, a large share of development risk lies on-site, especially when unpredictable weather conditions and industrial environments pose hindrances. Taking unnecessary variables out of the equation by executing designs in a safe and controlled environment means that with increased design involvement in early stages, we have complete control over the process and its outcomes.

Because of this added control when constructing prefabricated buildings within a factory, designs can be brought to life with the highest quality materials, construction methods and compliance. The repetitive nature of prefabrication also enables specialist personnel to perfect the uniformity of all elements, with clear oversight of the entire project without on-site distractions.

4. Ultimate sustainability objectives

There are two core reasons why prefabrication is better for the planet (and burgeoning institutional sustainability objectives). The first is its use of sustainable materials: high-tech innovations like cross-laminated timber (CLT) save tonnes of carbon compared to concrete, make use of renewable timber sources and are as (if not more) strong and effective as traditional materials.

Projects like the Library at the Dock (Clare Design / Hayball) in Melbourne’s Docklands are joining the global portfolio of best practice prefabrication examples, using innovative materials like CLT to become this country’s first public building awarded 6-Star Green Star.

Secondly, reduction in waste is integral for sustainability: it’s natural for a prefabricated design to exploit standardised material sizes, coordinating with the prefabricated ‘module’ and minimising offcuts.
We’re still learning

There’s no doubt prefabrication has had an image problem in the past—but times are changing. Thanks to improved technologies, a greater interest in sustainable building practices and growing demand for rapid builds and flexible structure, prefabricated learning environments should definitely be considered for any learning environment undergoing a renovation or masterplan.

Hayball's David Tweedie on the evolution of prefabrication in schools
Library at the Dock utilised CLT to become Australia’s first public building awarded 6-Star Green Star. Image: Hayball

Laurence Dragomir

Laurence Dragomir

Laurence Dragomir is one of the co-founders of Urban Melbourne. Laurence has developed a wealth of knowledge and experience working in both the private and public sector specialising in architecture, urban design and planning. He also has a keen interest in the built environment, cities and Star Wars.

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Hayball Education Prefabrication

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