Environment & Engineering

The X-Factor

Published Aug 22, 2019

Approximately half of all New Zealand's waste—about 1.6 million tonnes every year—is generated by the construction sector. But now a Victoria University of Wellington architecture student is working with Viclink to commercialise a game-changing building design that has the potential to eliminate waste and reduce the amount of raw materials being used by the building industry.

“The current widespread use of adhesive-based fixings and single-life materials means that building a single new home will create about four tonnes of waste during construction, and even more when it’s eventually demolished and taken to the landfill,” says PhD student Ged Finch, whose idea centres around a framing system that can be disassembled and re-used at the end of a building’s useful life.

Known as X-Frame, Ged’s self-braced, interlocking design enables pieces of wood (cut by a computer-controlled router) to simply clip together like flat-pack furniture—eliminating the need for adhesives, nails, screws, or any other single-use fixings. The clip-together design means that any type of structure—floors, walls, ceilings—can be rapidly assembled and disassembled many times over, using unskilled labour and a bare minimum of tools. Adding doors or windows at a later stage is simple, and when kids leave home: “they could literally take their rooms with them, as our modular design clips onto standard framing.”

Ged says that because every single component is designed to be disassembled and reused, no waste is produced at any stage of a building’s lifecycle.  

He came up with the idea during his Masters year and, under the guidance of Guy Marriage—Senior Lecturer in the University’s School of Architecture—has taken it into his PhD (with additional supervision from Dr Antony Pelosi and Dr Morten Gjerde). Viclink is working alongside Ged to commercialise the architectural solution he hopes will transition the building sector from a linear (take, make, dispose) economy to a circular economy—where materials are reused in endless cycles. 

“Viclink has been an amazing support,” says Ged. “During my Masters, Liam Sutton—one of Viclink’s Commercialisation Managers—brought in an IP specialist to talk to me about how to protect my intellectual property. They also organised for me to pitch to a circular economy start-up funder from Australia, who’s interested in talking with me further about opportunities across the ditch.”

But he says it was Viclink introducing him to KiwiNet that’s had the biggest impact to date. “Liam told me about the KiwiNet Emerging Innovator Programme and encouraged me to apply,” Ged says. 

Accepted into the programme earlier this year, Ged says it’s given him access to a great network of expertise and experience, his own business mentor, and funding which he is using in a number of ways to further develop his product. 

“The funding is helping me to carry out specialised work in order to create a prototype product, including finalising engineering designs for the earthquake-resistant, hold-down fixings for the walls and interior,” says Ged. “KiwiNet’s support will also help me test the structural integrity and weather-tightness of the X-frame product, both critical features for any future commercialised product.  They’ve also arranged for me to meet with scientists who are developing natural adhesives which perfectly complement the X-Frame technology—the networking is the magic!” 

Once testing is complete, Ged will undertake a series of small-build prototypes in the form of a cabin and a sleep-out to demonstrate his ideas at scale.

“I have a PhD scholarship funded by the Building Research Levy (BRANZ) to assist with the project as well, and they’ve provided additional funding for structural testing of the prototype product too.” 

He says that even though X-Frame is innately earthquake stable because of its design geometry, independent structural testing is crucial in getting his product to market.  

While the end-goal of his research project is to produce a waste-free, prefabricated residential dwelling, Ged’s ‘blue-sky’ objective is to build a housing development with a complete circular economy design—i.e. all building materials can be quickly recovered at the end of a structure’s life and either efficiently recycled or directly reused without any negative environmental impacts. 

“A development like that would set a new benchmark for sustainable design, not just in New Zealand but around the world,” says Ged. “I believe it could totally transform the way we think about buildings.”

For more information, contact Liam Sutton or visit Ged’s website.