Last week I spend three days at the 3rd Modular Construction and Pre-Fabrication ANZ Conference in Sydney on behalf of the Green Building Institute. Besides doing a few short interviews with some of the speakers, I had the chance to listen to a series of very interesting presentations on topics like drones in construction, visualisation with integrated BIM data or flat pack housing. It showed me that Australia has some innovation happening in the building industry and some champions to make it happen. At the same time, the conversations I had over the three days also confirmed the fact that the Australian Building Industry is way behind the rest of the world…at least the Western World. Personally, I couldn’t help but feel that Australia is missing the train again, falling even more behind by celebrating Pre-Fabrication and Modular Construction as THE innovation to solve the industry issues.

Most parts of Europe and Asia have a well-established Pre-Fabrication and Modular Construction Industry set up. Australia has only started developing it, while the rest of the world is well ahead using things like onsite manufacturing, 3D printing or establishing maker spaces for individual manufacturing. Generally, I feel that the Pre-Fabrication and Modular construction could help to improve the built environment in Australia, but after last week’s event I feel that the industries interest is more about finding ways to make more profit (produce more buildings in a shorter time frame) and not about the quality at all. Neither the quality of the actual built, nor the living quality for future occupiers and owners was high on everyone’s agenda. Australia’s Building Industry seems to have a lobby issue, or why do we see the same old players talking about old blah, instead of bringing the innovators to the table?

I don’t think that is the right way forward to create the change we desperately need and to solve the current and future issues in Australia’s building industry. Somewhat frustrating on my end, if you for example have to hear that an existing Pre-fabrication factory doesn’t consider different climate zones for their buildings or that one presenter proposed to be futuristic by designing modular living on Mars, in order to solve the issues on Earth. It shows me a lack of education in the field of sustainable buildings as well as the push to proceed with typical capitalist approaches –  we can’t get things right on our planet, so let’s abandon it and go for a new one. Great new business opportunity, right? (shaking my head here!)

On a positive note, a few presentations did focus on passive design principles and even pre-fabricated zero energy homes (made in Japan), but overall, I could tell that the majority of people attending the conference did not know what do with that kind of information at all. I feel it’s a real pity, since we are given a chance to rethink processes for the better by having all sorts of knowledge and modern technology available to us. Why don’t we use it and create a better, more future proof and healthier way of living in Australia? I don’t know the answer, but I do know that at DSGN Kartell and the Green Building Institute we will continue to do our part teaming up with a few other people I met during the conference (old and young) who feel the same way. So together we will continue to push for more innovation and sustainability and eventually and hopefully the market will follow.


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Ronny was born in former East Germany and describes himself as a world citizen and creative superhero. He is the founder of DSGN Kartell as well as a director for the Green Building Institute Australia. Grown up where “sustainability” was a necessity to survive, he developed a broad skill set and a very creative mind. Home & product designer, sustainability advocate, businessman, photographer – Ronny is wearing many hats (literally).

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