More than construction innovation: The interdisciplinary challenge of prefabricated schools

  • YEAR
    Newton, Clare
    Backhouse, Sarah
    Aibinu, Ajibade
    Soccio, Philippa
    2019 Conference Papers
    Conference Papers
    Construction Material and Construction Practices


Australian education departments use relocatable prefabricated classrooms extensively to respond rapidly and economically to fluctuating student numbers and as emergency accommodation.
Prefabrication has not been widely used for permanent school infrastructure, but this recently changed
in response to unprecedented increases in student numbers. Permanent prefabrication is currently
being commissioned by Australia’s two largest state education departments to quickly roll-out quality
infrastructure. These multi-billion-dollar government school programs represent a major opportunity for
step changes in the nation’s construction industry with the potential for a shift from off-site
conventional construction towards off-site manufacturing and mass customisation. The scale of the
program has the potential to catalyse investment for cutting edge design performance, mass
customisation ability and the adoption of digital engineering including building information modelling
across the life-cycle. The programs could also leverage recent research into learning environments for
changing pedagogies. This paper provides contextual data on prefabrication in Australia and argues a
case for prefabrication being conceptualised and evaluated not only in terms of construction innovation
but also as a design conversation with users. This approach requires breaking down of interdisciplinary
boundaries given siloed structures not only within government education departments but also more
broadly within university research and industry practice.

Keywords: Flexible school design; permanent prefabricated schools; post-occupancy evaluation;
interdisciplinary research.


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