In certain circles, if you don't prefab you're a moron.
Don't take my word for it. That's what Australian engineer and educator James Murray-Parkes told a conference at AUT this year. We're changing the way we build, he declared, and everybody involved better keep up.
In truth, many people are. You can look around the construction sector and see all manner of innovation and enthusiasm. I really mean it, there's great reason for hope.
But there is also so much blight. Architects, builders, banks and officials mired in the past. Construction that's far slower and more expensive than it ought to be. So many disappointing buildings.
The construction sector actually has declining productivity. Yes, declining. It scarcely seems possible for any industry to be less productive than it was a decade ago, let alone one where the demand to perform has been immense.
You know that thing they say about war? The glimmer of an upside is that it drives technological innovation. People find ways to do more, and better, and faster, than they ever dreamed they might, because they have to. The building crisis in this country should have had that effect. But it hasn't. Not yet.
Time to unleash the innovators.
Especially the prefabricators. That's because the best way to save money is to save time, and prefab housing can save a lot of time.
Prefabs are not new, as everyone who ever went to school knows. But there's nothing in the definition of prefab that means a cold classroom with fibrolite walls. Nothing that means temporary, either. Prefabrication means off-site manufacture, usually at scale: you can make a lot of units at once.
Saving money is not the only benefit, as PrefabNZ chief executive Pamela Bell explained in a lecture at the University of Auckland this week.
She's a former Olympic snowboarder and she likes to use snowboarding analogies: aim for the gaps between the trees, that sort of thing. Prefabs fill a gap.
Bell talks the way I imagine she boards: enthusiastically, precisely and at compelling speed. I'm amazed she hasn't bowled every obstacle in her path already, but obviously she's working on it.
Prefab equals off-site plus innovation, says Bell. Prefabs drive quality. One reason for that: when you have to convince sceptical regulators and inspectors about new ways to do things, you have to do it well.
Besides, a staggering 87 per cent of new houses now, according to BRANZ, the Building Research Association, have quality defects. The old way of doing things ain't so flash anyway.
Prefabs save time: it could be up to 60 per cent in this country, says Bell. Offshore, more. At a prefab factory in Tennessee, 300 workers make 20 houses a day. A company in China is putting up tower blocks at the rate of three storeys a day.
Prefab construction reduces waste, which meets a sustainability goal and makes building cheaper. There are fewer workplace accidents. And, uniquely in the construction sector, half the membership of her organisation are women.
Prefab doesn't have to mean everyone gets the same house. Cookie-cutter designs is important when you're building at scale, but there are lots of different cookie cutters and lots of decorations you can put on your cookies. Besides, prefab solutions are most common for parts of houses: roof bracing or walls, say.
Or bathroom and kitchen pods. PrefabNZ has an open-source bathroom pod available on its website, the winner of a competition in 2016.
According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, a 10 percent increase in construction productivity would drive a 1 per cent increase in GDP.
There are about 100 companies on the PrefabNZ manufacturers list, and the sector is scaling up. Fletcher Building has announced plans for a prefab factory that will add about 50 per cent capacity to its own home-building programme.
So what's the problem? Bell says there are three of them. In rising levels of absurdity (my phrase, not hers ), they are procurement, consenting and the banks.
Procurement is essentially the problem of working at scale.
Any factory constructing more than 800 homes a year, she says, may employ three times as many people in logistics as in manufacture. They're needed to keep supply lines flowing so the whole operation doesn't grind to a halt.
As for consenting, here in Auckland, the council CEO Stephen Town told me recently they have hundreds of inspectors but they are "struggling with volume". He said, "We're donkey deep in a whole range of things to make the process faster."
Finding it hard to make time to work smarter so they can save time, I think that means.
Prefabrication cries out for innovations like off-site consenting, pre-consenting and bulk consenting, and while all those things have started to happen, Pamela Bell says progress is very slow. And perversely, innovation to speed things up will instead slow them down if inspectors don't know or don't trust what they're looking at.
The result: consenting can take longer than construction itself. Apparently the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment is working on it.
And then there are the banks. Their rules, says Bell, make it difficult to arrange loans for houses not built as fixed dwellings onsite.
She's working with them and says it's "really boring, really laborious". As she said this, her shoulders dropped, her voice slowed, her enthusiasm all but disappeared. The air went out of her.
Just going to throw my tuppence in here. Hey, you banks, what the hell?
What about we have no more ads about how you're putting New Zealanders into the homes of their dreams, eh? You can be part of the project to build this country the way it needs to be, with warm, dry homes for all, or you can get out of the way.
Prefabrication is valuable for medium and high-density housing, small homes and large apartment blocks, Kiwibuild, state houses, emergency housing and the general market. Prefabs are prefabulous. They're for all parts of the housing market.
Housing Minister Phil Twyford has said the task is "to transform how we build houses in New Zealand".
I asked Bell what single thing she thought the Government should do that it isn't already doing. "Look at the local industry before they go offshore," she said. If overseas suppliers can do prefabrication better than we can, should we get them to do it for us?
I'm with Bell: this should be a great chance for New Zealand industry. But it's also problematic. We love to tell ourselves we're good at innovation, but in the construction sector, despite all the activity around the edges, that's simply not true. Our problems are technological, regulatory, logistical and financial. And don't forget, also too many morons.
The Government has to demand of the industry that all this changes, and fast. It has to clear the barriers to that change and support the innovations that emerge. It's a test. A really big one.