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UniPod Design Competition results announced

Unipod Winner First Light Studio

What if your bathroom and kitchen came to your building site in one-piece like a giant piece of Lego? That’s exactly what the UniPod is all about. The UniPod is an open-source universally accessible bathroom pod – designed specifically for multi-unit residential applications, think social housing, retirement villages, and apartment buildings.

The open-source UniPod is the brain-child of PrefabNZ, the hub for prebuilt construction in New Zealand. PrefabNZ is working with BRANZ funding to increase uptake of prefabrication through the Levers for Prefab programme.

The UniPod provides an exciting glimpse into the future of medium-density housing – online instructions for assembling by manufacturers anywhere in New Zealand. This is similar to how pre-nailed wall frames and roof trusses started, and now those systems are common-place building components for almost all new-build housing.

PrefabNZ is pleased to announce the winning entry of the UniPod design competition is Wellington’s First Light Studio. First Light is the award-winning team that originated from Victoria University of Wellington’s School of Architecture to become the first southern hemisphere entrant in the United States Solar Decathlon competition in 2013. They sent their Meridian First Light House to the United States to place third overall, and also took out podium spots for five of the ten competition areas – architecture, engineering, market appeal, hot water and energy balance

The UniPod design “is innovative and intensive – cleverly combining all of the necessary functional requirements in a smart wall services core that is highly space efficient. It’s small space means a high degree of usability for different building types and assists with installation logistics, manoeuvrability and cranage,” according to PrefabNZ Board Chair and Judge Daiman Otto. See First Light Studio's winning UniPod design here.

The winning team First Light Studio goes home with $5,000 cash and free attendance at the upcoming PrefabNZ CoLab event (April 6-8 in Auckland), along with a sneak preview of their prototype design in the flesh!

Kevin Stanley, Managing Director of Stanley Group, warmly congratulates First Light Studio. He says the Stanley team are excited and looking forward to the opportunity to work on the prototype manufacture of this "unique and well thought-out proposal". All will be revealed at the CoLab in a few weeks time…

Additionally, the judges chose to award the entry from Christchurch’s Welhaus with Highly Commended and two free tickets to the PrefabNZ CoLab. Their design solution “provides a well resolved and thought-out space that allows for a number of different configurations, markets and aesthetic treatments. In paying attention to the arrangement and spatial dimensions of the internal space, a highly functional and accessible bathroom space has been created out of a very small area.” (Daiman Otto, PrefabNZ Board Chair)

The remaining two finalists each receive a free ticket to the CoLab. The entries were of a very high standard and submitted by Neil Cudby of Tauranga’s Cudby Homes and Ron Seeto of MCP Auckland Architects.

The UniPod design had to conform to Lifemark universal design guidelines, regulatory bathroom standards for accessibility, incorporate services for an adjoining kitchenette, be cost-effective, be dressed up or down for a range of housing situations from social housing to retirement and luxury apartments, as well as being structurally sound and ultimately buildable – no small feat!

Guest judges were from supporting organisations: Dave Strachan of Strachan Group Architects representing the Institute of Architects, Dean Tallentire of Summerset representing the Retirement Villages Association, Adam Wakeford of Lifetime Design representing Lifemark, Daiman Otto of Hampton Jones representing PrefabNZ, and Mark Southcombe, Senior Lecturer at Victoria University’s School of Architecture. The judges were strong in support of the winning and runner-up entries and agreed that the quality of the four finalists was a solid indication of ‘no.8 wire’ innovation that is needed to address the housing affordability issues that New Zealand is facing.

Anna Farrow of First Light Studio’s winning team says:
"As a young company dedicated to producing future-thinking architecture that enhances the wellbeing of people and the environment, we are thrilled to win PrefabNZ’s UniPod competition. Accessible bathroom design too often brings to mind sterile materials, cold grab-rails and clunky fixtures, so we’ve enjoyed the opportunity to show that a universal bathroom pod can be beautiful as well as functional, durable and economical. We focused on creating a bathroom that not only allowed for easy, comfortable use and movement but which would be a truly enjoyable space to be in."

Dan Tremewan of Welhaus’ runner-up team says:
"We’d like to thank PrefabNZ and future homeowners who will benefit from the efficiency gains from increased offsite manufacturing that this competition fosters. We are pleased that judges recognised the way architect Simon Blencowe from Pynenberg Collins Architects incorporated Lifemark accessibility with design features and New Zealand timber surfaces."

Mark Southcombe, judge from Victoria University’s School of Architecture:
The winning design stood out from the others for the extent of its innovation, taking the idea of a universal services pod to another level. The UniPod idea has been compacted into a highly serviced industrially designed core that integrates all the tricky and expensive bits of a house or apartment in a compact, flexible, smart and yet beautiful way.

It is a highly efficient and practical design too, readily integrating into a variety of customised designs and with a range of existing building methods and types. We expect this design and its refinements will be embraced by New Zealand industry who will be quick to see its advantages, that it will be manufactured in numbers, and has real potential for export. It will become the heart of a new generation of New Zealand housing.

Ron Seeto of MCP Auckland Architects’ finalist team says:
The UniPod competition presented several opportunities to innovate and make an everyday bathroom space accessible, adaptable and cost effective; to learn more about Lifemark guidelines and accessibility regulations; and to work together with core team partners at James Hardie and Adaptive Building Technology (ABT Construction).

PrefabNZ gratefully acknowledges the support of BRANZ (Levy Funding) and UniPod Partners:
- NZ Institute of Architects (NZIA),
- Lifemark,
- Retirement Villages Association (RVA), and
- Victoria University of Wellington Schools of Architecture and Design (VUW SoAD).

Download the UniPod finalists entries here:
Winner - First Light Studio
Highly Commended - Welhaus
Finalist - Cudby Homes
Finalist - MCP Auckland Architects

Associated Media:
See Architecture Now article here

See Ebos Detailed Blog here
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