Victoria architecture student creates unique, zero-waste building solution

Master of Architecture (Professional) student Ged Finch has created a new prefab building system to help combat the huge amounts of waste produced by the building industry.

Student Ged Finch standing in front of prefab design.

“I worked in the construction industry in 2016, and I saw how much waste the industry produces,” Ged says. “Many of the components used in building now aren’t reusable or recyclable, and we’re producing 50% more building waste than we were in 2005. We need a solution to make building more sustainable.”

For his Master’s thesis, Ged designed a prefab building system that uses plywood to create sustainable housing. Ged’s design involves cutting the components for a building frame out of plywood sheets, making each component the same shape and size so it can be used in any part of a building.

There are currently other plywood prefab building solutions on the market, but Ged’s designs produce zero waste.

“Plywood is readily available, affordable, and due to the way it’s made it doesn’t warp or break like regular wood. Plywood is also cut in the same size sheets everywhere in the world, so the components I’ve designed can be cut from a sheet of plywood anywhere. The designs take up the entire sheet of plywood, so there’s no waste when cutting the parts,” he says.  

Because all the pieces are the same size and shape, they can be used across different buildings. If someone wants to downsize their house and their neighbour wants to add another room, they can remove sections from one house and attach it to the other. The pieces will also be able to be mass-produced, reducing the cost of building housing.

“Architects believe their work lasts forever, but that’s just not true. We need to be smarter about our building materials, and we need a solution now. And unlike many projects, this research doesn’t use technology that will be available ten years from now – it’s ready to go today.”

There are other benefits to using plywood. If there is any waste, it can be turned into other house products like wall coating or insulation. Increasing the use of plywood will also encourage the further development of environmentally friendly adhesives and waterproofing solutions for plywood not currently widely available at a cost-efficient price.

Ged’s design system recently won Highly Commended honours at the New Zealand Institute of Architects (NZIA) Student Design Awards. These awards go to the top architecture students in the country, hand-picked from New Zealand’s three schools of architecture.

“My project was quite unusual compared to the projects that normally win this award, so receiving Highly Commended was a big stamp of approval from NZIA,” Ged says. “Practical projects like this one don’t often place at the awards, but the judges liked my holistic approach to combining theory and practical. It’s not just a building tool, it’s an architectural design solution.”

Ged’s Master’s project is just the beginning. He has built a one-to-one model using his proposed prefab solution, and tested various housing aspects, such as corners and cantilevered structures. So far, the structures can extend up to five metres high, and they’re weight bearing.

“I still need to look at other building problems, like fireproofing,” Ged says. “I also want to build a full house using this technique, which I’m hoping to do in the next few years.”

Ged plans to continue working on his building system while he completes his PhD at Victoria.

“I want to do more research and make sure this is the best solution,” says Ged. “Also, once I have extensive academic research behind the solution, banks will be more likely to take the risk and fund buildings using this method.”

He says New Zealand has a huge housing crisis, but its construction industry is also booming, making the market ripe for a new building design solution.

“This is the perfect time to do something big like this and break the traditional building mould,” Ged says. “If we can get the funding now, we can get this system into mass-production, and help New Zealand solve its housing crisis.”