Rob Colquhoun is the founder and director of one of Australia’s leading prefabricated building companies, Prebuilt.
Ahead of his presentation at the upcoming
prefabAUS conference, Rob speaks to us about Prebuilt’s journey, design resolution, and the future of prefabrication.
Provide a summary of your key experience and roles.
My experience has been in the property and advertising fields for the last 25 years. It includes running an advertising business in Asia and developing and building many large-scale commercial projects in Australia. I have a background in engineering, management consultancy and project management and a great personal interest in design and business systems.
What sparked your interest in prefabricated construction?
Prefab was the perfect solution for a river house that I was building as it enabled us to manage the project from our lives in the city. On inspection of providers however, we found that there was little or no design sensibilities about what was on offer, rather the genre was stuck in a “kit home” or “log cabin” mindset.
We saw an opportunity to bring architectural design to manufactured homes to attract a market that is more particular and interested in design.
It was at this time that we saw the need to re-brand “kit homes” and invest in positioning what we were offering as a prefab solution. This prefab positioning caught on as other new players entered the market.
Take us through the journey so far with Prebuilt.
Prebuilt commenced in 2003 with a patented fold up design house. This house type received enormous amount of press support due to the innovation it brought to the industry and the ability for an architecturally designed house of three to four bedrooms to be folded up and transported on a single truck. The “Oragami” house, as came to be known, has been installed all over Australia from Margaret River in WA, far north Queensland in Airlie Beach and even in Tasmania.
After this success, in predominantly rural Australia, further collaborations were undertaken with other architects and new models developed responding more completely to client-driven briefs. The houses became more and more complex as clients sought to gain the efficiencies that prefab could provide to more complex architectural and building issues. Many hundreds of houses have now been built across Australia in both rural and urban locations. Typical house budgets are now between $300,000 to $1,500,000 with some houses completed at the $2M + level.
In early 2005 market pressures indicated that prefab solutions would also be beneficial for commercial applications and, leveraging the commercial project experience, Prebuilt developed a stand-alone company to focus on these opportunities. Nearly a hundred commercial projects have now been completed consisting of close to a thousand truckable modules. Large-scale projects have been completed for McDonald’s Restaurants, Lend Lease, Stockland, Mirvac, the Anglican and Catholic Churches and numerous other clients.
What makes Prebuilt unique as a business?
Prebuilt is unique in that it provides a broad range of services and design approaches for clients from varied locations, budgets and design aesthetics. We are able to work with clients, commercial or residential to provide a completely resolved architectural design and a sensible manufacturing approach.
What are Prebuilt’s plans for the future?
Prebuilt plans to continue to work with and develop homes at the highest level of architecture. We will continue to use architectural firm Pleysier Perkins for our base designs and to facilitate a fantastically cost effective way of providing resolved design to all our home buyers. Prebuilt will also be undertaking several landmark real home projects including delivering houses designed by some of Australia’s most highly regarded architects.
Commercially, Prebuilt will continue to develop niche markets for which a prefab approach makes absolute sense. This will include train stations, marketing suites, education, health, retail and lowrise high density residential.
How does Prebuilt work with the architecture and design industry on projects?
Because of our commercial background, Prebuilt understands the important process of appropriate design resolution. We absolutely respect the role that external architects and design consultants perform in order that a project reaches completion in the best possible way. Prebuilt’s project management team follow systematic quality and design processes to ensure that all aspects of a project's design are addressed at the appropriate time.
We will continue to invite collaboration with new designers to further expand the boundaries of what the Australian prefab market has been providing.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
At any one time, Prebuilt may be working on up to 40 different projects, so the most challenging aspect would I think be keeping on top of the various issues and timing requirements.
What is the highlight of your job?
There is enormous stimulation from working on many projects. They all have particular design and construction challenges and are incredibly fast paced. A highlight is having a team in place who are able to manage these challenges and who personally gain great satisfaction from the handover of a successful project.
Where do you think the prefabrication industry will be five years from now?
I think the prefab industry will continue to find appropriate niches that are no brainers for prefab. Clients will consider prefab solutions as a first choice solution rather than one that had a level of risk or uncertainty attached to it. I think there will be further rationalisation of areas of industry for which prefab is clearly not appropriate as well.
What are most pressing policy issues facing your industry?
Uniform licensing and road permit approaches across all states.
Tell us about a recent major project you have just completed
Two projects spring to mind, a new community centre for a Geelong church called St John’s Highton and a Catholic College Learning Commons building in Sydenham. Both of these are beautifully designed and push the boundaries of what traditional prefab has been able to achieve.
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