GMUG 2013: Sarah Backhouse on density, prefabrication and the future of cities

As part of Melbourne Knowledge Week in November 2013 Urban Melbourne presented the public forum "Guiding Melbourne's Urban Growth".  

The question we invited each presenter to respond to:

If Melbourne is to fulfil its own motto of gaining strength as it grows, planning policy must shift away from the auto-centric low-density suburban growth patterns of the past.  Cities which encourage diverse human interaction through policies which enable increased residential and employment densities benefit from increased localised economic and social activity. With the great Australian dream of owning a home becoming increasingly unattainable where spiralling congestion and travel distance to employment and services offset the lower prices of new fringe suburban development, how can Melbourne make medium and high-density living more attractive to individuals and families at a price they can afford?

Today we feature the presentation given by Sarah Backhouse.  Sarah is an architect, designer, educator, researcher and currently holds the CEO position at prefabAUS.

Urban Melbourne - Guiding Melbourne's Urban Growth: Part 4 - Sarah Backhouse from The Video Agency on Vimeo.

Sarah Backhouse in her own words.

"As a global phenomenon, cities are facing growing population pressure. In response, we need to rethink our cities as the demands for smarter land use increases. We will also need faster and leaner ways to construct our future cities, in order to minimise disturbance to existing communities that can arise during long construction projects. This suggests change to the form of our current urban environments and how we build them.

"It is normal for us to fear change however knowledge and education are powerful means of dispelling doubt or resistance. Housing Expos have long been employed in Europe to explore and address ‘big issues’, be it new density models or construction innovation. Such Expos are frequently built as permanent communities, yet open to the public for a period of time before being handed over to owners or tenants. They offer a tangible experience of new design or construction ideas, and provide places that people can feel, touch and understand. The time for such Housing Expos has come in Australia, so that we can refocus public debate and help shift discussions from the position of NIMBY to QIMBY.

"At PrefabAUS, we are working hard to demonstrate that 21 century prefabricated building technologies are an important part of construction innovation, and offer permanent quality solutions. A greater uptake of prefabricated building elements or whole buildings is important for decreasing construction time frames and construction waste while increasing construction quality, productivity and affordability. Building prefabrication also has a vital role to play in advancing Australia’s manufacturing sector.

"Part of our future vision is to participate in such Housing Expos. Our industry has some legacy issues to contend with - many that stem from prefabrication’s past association with temporary buildings – and collaboration in such Housing Expos will allow us to display the talent of home grown manufacturers, constructors, designers, and innovators who are leading the way with projects such as: aspirational homes that are delivered to difficult or remote locations 99% complete; 21st century modular classrooms that are 3D sustainability textbooks for our children; and multi-residential apartment buildings assembled on site in a matter of days.  We have reached the tipping point, we have the capabilities, and we are ready to embrace the future."

The editors of Urban Melbourne would like to thank Sarah for sharing her perspectives and similarly would like to thank The State Library of Victoria team and our partners at The Video Agency for filming the entire event.


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