Bridgehill considers apartment revolution

September 28, 2016

Having built premium apartments in Australia, Sydney based developer Bridgehill is now urging a rethink of the affordability issue, suggesting that prefabricated homes may be the future.

“We are in a dilemma,” says managing director Yibin Xu. “Affordability is a genuine concern but meanwhile building costs are increasing, combined with land prices, which are still at very high levels, so the margin in the industry is shrinking. The land price is not governed by us, so we, as developers, can only think about how to bring the cost of building down.”

Mr Xu, who taught architecture at the highly regarded Tsinghua University, is amazed at what he saw during a recent trip to China, where a 30storey building was completed in 10 weeks without scaffolding.

“If we can use those prefabricated dwellings made by assembly manufacturers and then ship (them) to the site, the developer only need to put them together on site and it’s done,” he says, noting that the construction cost will be at least halved.

“You can then build homes like cars … This is the future of the building industry and we have to be ready.”

Mr Xu has talked to Chinese suppliers of prefabricated homes, only to be told Bridgehill’s development pipeline is too small to make the business viable.

The company, which is able to deliver about 500 apartments a year, is one of Australia’s fastest growing developers.

It holds an 1800apartment land bank in Sydney and is diversifying into greenfield developments across NSW.

“You need the volume to support the business, which is the problem with Australia,” he says.

Since prefabricated homes sound a remote option for Bridgehill, Mr Xu chooses to take less dramatic initiatives to address housing affordability, such as offering convertible floor plans.

“Without changing the comfort of the dwelling, we have to convert the existing space,” he says. “The physical boundary has to be eliminated.

“You can turn the daytime living room into a bedroom or you can combine the bedroom with the living room, depending on who is going to use it.”

Bridgehill is adopting convertible space ideas in its Green Square project in Sydney’s south, but Mr Xu declines to discuss it in detail. The company is building a residential complex on 1.8ha with the capacity for about 820 apartments with shops and restaurants on the ground level.

The convertible concept can be taken to the next level to create buildings that can break down existing property categories such as residential, office or retail, he says.

Buildings even can be built in a way that allows them to rotate.

“Why do we have to build something that is fixed?” Mr Xu asks. “If we can rotate the building itself, people no longer face north or south forever. They will share different views at different times.”

With 35 years of experience in architectural design and property development, Mr Xu sees these out of the box concepts as the key to differentiate the group from others, though he still has to be careful.

“We can’t afford to be pioneers always who will be penalised by the market,” he says, laughing.

“We can only test a little bit and try something a little bit different in each project.”

Originally published by The Australian