Hector & Egger

Swiss precision in Cromwell

When you think about Switzerland, what comes to the forefront of your mind? Is it expensive watches, exclusive banking, cuckoo clocks or chocolate maybe?

Although this is a story about none of those things, it is about something for which the Swiss are also globally renowned: precision. Specifically, the precision involved in assembling a very Swiss factory at the bottom of the world, replicated to the centimetre to accommodate precision machinery that was transported by ship from Langenthal, Switzerland, to Cromwell, Central Otago! And not just any factory – but one that now produces precisely prefabricated timber panels and elements for the residential and commercial construction sectors.

It’s also about two people who couldn’t shake a dream to provide a more efficient, sustainable, cost effective and higher quality option to the building industry.

So who are these people, and what is their company called?

Hector Egger New Zealand is the company; a new Cromwell-based joint venture business formed between Swiss company Hector Egger Holzbau AG and two Queenstown-based partners, Tristan Franklin and Stephan Mäusli.

Hector Egger NZ specialises in manufacturing high-tech timber structures and prefabricated timber panels for residential and commercial building construction. It uses a suite of proven offsite manufacturing solutions pioneered by Hector Egger Holzbau AG, which has 20 years’ experience in offsite manufacturing of timber buildings and structures, with three ISO 9001 certified factories operating in Switzerland.

Hector Egger NZ has recently completed construction of a new 3,500m² Cromwell factory and office building, and manufacturing got underway at the beginning of this year. The company’s intention is to improve the diversity of construction options available in the New Zealand market, provide cost certainty with higher quality outcomes, be more sustainably focused and produce timber panels and elements faster than traditional building methods.

 

Hector & Egger
Left to Right: Michael Schär, Tristan Franklin, Stephan Mäusli & Paul Schär.

How did this all come about?

Tristan Franklin, Director of Hector Egger NZ, explains: “Stephan has a long-standing relationship with Hector Egger Holzbau AG originating from an office building he designed in Switzerland 17 years ago. He maintained a relationship with the company owners after the project, thinking for a long time that offsite manufacturing could work well here in New Zealand given the similarities we share across building codes and timber construction.

“After the Christchurch earthquakes, Stephan approached Hector Egger Holzbau AG about exploring the obvious opportunities together, but it was still slightly too early for prefabricated buildings and the market was just not receptive at the time.

“Going forward to early 2017, Stephan and I met when we became neighbours in Queenstown where he had moved to run a well-known construction company in the region. We got talking about construction and some of the many issues being faced by the industry, and he suggested making contact again with Hector Egger Holzbau AG to explore this opportunity again. Stephan set up a conference call the following week to introduce me as well as the opportunities we saw in New Zealand, and this Monday night conference call is a discipline we have maintained every week since then.”

At the same point in time, Hector Egger Holzbau AG were finalising the upgrade of their largest factory in Switzerland to a fully robotic operation, meaning the existing machinery was going to need to come out. Rather than sell this to other companies in Europe and therefore giving away the IP in their customised machines, they could see an opportunity to extend the useful life of the machinery in New Zealand.

The NZ partners were invited to Switzerland for the 170th anniversary of the original timber construction company. They spent a couple of weeks at the HQ developing the relationship and also understanding the workings of an advanced timber Offsite Manufacturing (OSM) business. Not long after this visit, Paul and Michael Schär visited New Zealand where they spent several weeks further assessing the opportunities in New Zealand with Stephan and Tristan.

“They particularly liked the size and scale of developments in New Zealand and also the repetition of design typologies that they saw here,” says Tristan. “In Switzerland everything is very bespoke, but here the opportunity existed to work with developers, councils and government on projects with scale and repetition.”

Hector & Egger

How did they progress from there?

“We originally looked at leasing an existing factory and bringing the machines down, but we soon realised that we would be better to fully commit and copy the exact form and IP of the Swiss business,” says Tristan. “This even involved replicating the footprint of the Swiss factory to the centimetre to follow the lean manufacturing processes they had developed over 20 years in operation.”

Making the decision to buy land and build their own factory, the NZ-based partners looked around the North Island and Christchurch for the right site, before eventually deciding there was plenty of opportunity for a business of this size in Cromwell – an ideal location geographically situated near Queenstown and Wanaka, with excellent road access to Dunedin, Christchurch and Invercargill.

They purchased some land on Old Saleyard Road, and set about designing a replica of the Swiss factory, explains Tristan.

“Although the main factory is built primarily of steel, Kingspan and precast concrete we were able to manufacture our offices – a two-storey, 450m2, un-treated timber building in Switzerland where it was then shipped down in six OT 40-foot containers and assembled onsite in 8 days. It was important to demonstrate our own methodology in the new Cromwell building and this would definitely extend to the main factory structure on any future expansion!”

Hector & Egger

How did they build the new factory office building?

Tristan explains:

“As with all of our projects, the process starts with a 3D model to help visualise all of the connection details, calculate material quantities and resolve any issues or clashes in the structure. We can then break each project down to the very last staple and screw which in turn allows us to provide fixed price quotations to our clients. Once the 3D model and shop drawings are completed we then pass those files through to the factory for processing. This starts with the cutting of all of the timber components, moves through to the assembly of the panels and elements and finishes with the transport and assembly of our timber structure on site.”

White Associates were involved through this process, with director Darin Bayer assisting in setting up bank funding and providing advice on offsite materials and the procurement process, before facilitating the drawdown process. Getting involved early 2019, when the partners were procuring subtrades, Darin says that visiting the site made a strong impression.

“When I went to the bare site I was immediately impressed at the precision involved,” says Darin. “The components for the office were being shipped from Switzerland, and everything happened exactly as anticipated. Even with Covid in the mix, they overcame their timeframe and delivery challenges by applying additional resource here in New Zealand. The process worked so well.”

For his part, Tristan says that White Associates were “fantastic, really good to work with. They made a real effort to understand the differences in our methodology compared to what they normally deal with. Trying to get something like this established in New Zealand is incredibly difficult, and without financially strong business partners, plus a foot up with machinery, it would have been almost impossible to execute.

“When we initially went to the banks, we struggled to get the big four to understand what we were proposing, which was really frustrating. It was hard to get them to invest the time required to understand our business model, and although all thought it was a great idea and much needed in the market, they were not able to assist us with lending. It wasn’t until we met the new Queenstown Commercial Manager for Kiwibank, who really committed to understanding our business plan and financial model, that we eventually banked the entire project with him. Kiwibank also saw the calibre of White Associates as PQS, and if they signed off on a claim then they were comfortable. White Associates have been an important part of that financing puzzle.”

Hector & Egger

The build was not without its challenges. Starting on site in January 2020, the on-site team were just about to start vertical works on the factory building when lockdown paused everything for six weeks. As soon as they could they got back on site and completed the build in November, with Code of Compliance issued in January 2021: a 12-month project from start to finish.

“We achieved exactly what we said we would,” says Tristan. “Our timelines and budget were accurate, and we started to manufacture on 11 January as originally planned. Covid-19 certainly threw in a few extra challenges around commissioning of machinery, as we couldn’t get the specialist technicians in from Europe, but with a combination of service agents in New Zealand and online technical support from Europe, this was successfully achieved.”

Outcome: how do they feel about the facility now it is up and running?

“It’s fantastic,” says Tristan. “We have a great-looking clear-span industrial building and a high-quality timber office building, really functional and performing exactly as we intended.”

He says that the facility replicates the same IP and processes as their Swiss partners and is focused on the same lean manufacturing principles developed in Switzerland.

“Our panelised system is either engineered to meet NZ code or designed to be fully compliant with NZS 3604 building standards. It is faster to completion, less expensive and higher quality when manufactured offsite. This solution can be used equally well across stand-alone houses, medium density developments, multi-storey apartments, schools and commercial buildings. A 150m2 family home will take approximately 6-8 weeks in design and engineering per typology, 5 days factory manufacture and 3-5 days on site installation to weathertight envelope. We also provide fixed pricing for the manufacture and installation of our timber panels and elements.

 

The rest of the world is starting to embrace the use of mass timber to reduce the amount of steel and concrete in construction, and given our Government’s targets around reducing carbon emissions, timber construction is definitely on trend. By taking construction into a controlled factory environment with no adverse weather effects, minimising waste, enhancing quality, improving health and safety outcomes and reducing time on site, offsite-manufacturing has an important role to play in the future of the construction industry.”

He adds that Hector Egger NZ is already working on its first project, prefabricating wall, roof and mid-floor panels for six duplex houses for Jacks Point in Queenstown, with several other projects contracted and many more in the pipeline.

“We are very positive for the future and committed to showing that New Zealand can build better quality, cost effective and sustainably focused buildings than is currently the case.”

Hector & Egger
North Villas, Jacks Point

How can NZ developers and builders use this process and facility?

“Talk to us early,” says Tristan. “If you’re going to prefabricate then you need to make this decision early in the process. This allows us to work alongside the project team to design and value-engineer the building for offsite manufacture and prefabrication.

 

We are very happy to show people through our new facility with the aim of encouraging the adoption of prefabrication, and to make more and more people aware of the benefits. And just like the Hector Egger company motto – ‘Think. Plan. Build’ – we will approach every project with the same methodology, and always in that order.”

 

Riverside Market

Riverside Market generates awards buzz as visitors flock

Just over a year ago, a temporary symbol of Christchurch’s powerful resilience, creativity and determination became a permanent city attraction when the Riverside Market opened to customers.

Since then, the hugely popular covered market has gone from strength to strength, attracting 30 independent food outlets, 40 fresh produce stalls and 10,000 visitors every day into its welcoming, humming 3,500 sqm space at 96 Oxford Terrace.

Now nominated for the Yardi Retail Property Award at the Property Council NZ Property Industry Awards 2020, Riverside Market has also attracted praise from visitors and media alike for its ability to provide a stellar new offering in the city centre. As Stuff.co.nz wrote in a review recently,

“Riverside Market has completely electrified the inner city with its bustling community hub, complete with a 7-day-trading farmers’ market, owner-operated eateries, and boutique retailers.”

This success is extremely satisfying for us at White Associates, as we love being involved with projects that become integral to their city. As White Associates Director Darin Bayer says,

“Riverside Market has become a focal point in Christchurch, a real community hub at the western end of Christchurch’s retail precinct, for visitors and locals alike. It was a very successful project and is now doing extremely well. This is the sort of project we get excited to work on – we really enjoyed it.

 

Built overlooking the east bank of the Avon River, it is intertwined with several laneways, with the main Little Oxford Lane leading to the CCC carpark and Ballantynes department store. At a time of supporting local, Riverside Market supports local growers and small businesses by purchasing fresh, organic produce, meat, seafood, freshly baked goods, coffee and more. A strong point of a local market is a reduced carbon footprint, minimising food packaging and waste and travel both for producers and purchasers of locally grown food.”

Riverside Market

A high-end retail redevelopment on the site of the previous Re:Start Mall, bordered by Cashel and Lichfield streets and Oxford Terrace, Riverside Market includes a farmers’ market, restaurants, food stalls and retail shops.

The development by Richard Peebles, Kris Inglis and Mike Percasky contains not only the farmers’ market but also 15 high-end fashion and retail tenancies, 4 mezzanine floor hospitality opportunities and an open rooftop bar. Outdoor seating spills onto Oxford Terrace, which has been paved and pedestrianised to create a lively and engaging destination for locals and visitors.

Investor Richard Peebles says he had wanted to create a farmers’ market in the city for a long time, but finding the right location had been difficult until the Re:Start site and surrounding land became available through Crown company Ōtākaro.

“The markets also offer the ability for small businesses and entrepreneurs to essentially incubate their businesses – barriers to entry are low,” explains Richard.

White Associates provided bank funding Quantity Surveyor representation for this development. White Associates Director Darin Bayer says that this transformational development is testament to what can be achieved

“with incredible vision, thorough planning and a strong commitment to providing the Christchurch community with an outstanding new precinct.”

Richard Peebles has been involved in numerous other central city projects, such as the McKenzie and Willis development on High Street and a three storey build on the Hereford end of The Terrace that houses a restaurant & bars on the ground and first floor with office space at the top.

“It’s great to be part of the building momentum. The city has really taken shape post-quake and the Riverside Market has contributed towards making everything a lot more lively and active”.

Let’s hope that Riverside Market can add gold at the awards to the plaudits it is already attracting from the public!

 

Plant and Food Research

Precision in Action: Plant & Food Research

At White Associates we do love it when projects receive awards recognition. One that keeps on giving in this respect is a redevelopment project for Plant & Food Research that has been nominated for the Naylor Love Heritage and Adaptive Reuses Property Award at the upcoming Property Council NZ Awards.

Seemingly involving just about every part of our business, this $40 million series of complex and multi-faceted projects demonstrates the intensive cost management work we do to meet the precision required for work in professional scientific research laboratories, involving Konrad Trankels, Graham White, Justin Maritz, Paul Crockett and Weng Tan across a range of disciplines and buildings across a swathe of time lasting from 2013 to 2019.

Project durations:

First budget estimate – Q1 2013
Server room upgrade – Sept 2014 to Dec 2014
Cunningham Building – Nov 2014 to Aug 2015
Hamilton Building (incl. ground floor fit out) – May 2015 to Jan 2019
Padfield Sensory – Aug 2016 to Aug 2017

The client and its needs

To appreciate the breadth of activity over the last seven years, it is worth starting at the beginning: with the client and its needs.

Plant & Food Research is a New Zealand Crown Research Institute, a science organisation that provides research and development that adds value to fruit, vegetable, crop and food products. The organisation occupies a beautiful campus in Mt Albert in Auckland, providing a workplace for more than 350 people. However, the campus was feeling its age, and to enable the institute to be able to do its work properly in the 21st Century the buildings needed to be brought up to a new standard.

From a property perspective, the campus comprised the seven-storey Hamilton Building, originally built in 1967, plus its neighbour, the Deco-inspired Cunningham Building. Under the project, these and other buildings have undergone a significant redevelopment and upgrade (alongside the creation of the purpose-built Padfield office and research facility) to create state-of-the art science facilities and laboratories along with modern, future-focused workspaces, all to ensure that Plant & Food Research can continue to deliver high quality science for New Zealand’s plant and marine-based food industries. This has involved seismic upgrades, replacing the roof and facade, as well as the interior accommodation of four floors of laboratories and three floors of office space.

Plant and Food Research
Photo Credit: Bossley Architects

More specifically, works included asbestos removal, interior fit-out demolition, mechanical, electrical and plumbing work, upgrading and reinstating internal fitout, new plant, facade enhancements, a new security system, and a main services upgrade. And, significantly, the high-precision buildings had to remain occupied and operational throughout the project.

This considerable set of requirements required White Associates to provide a full range of quantity surveying services, including initial estimates, contract preparation, tenders and post-contract cost management. Moreover, working as the cost manager on a science-specific building meant that White Associates had to understand all of the complexities of the different functions of the buildings, and in great detail – from infrastructure, structure, fitout and services – so we could properly incorporate all the science-specific spaces such as laboratories.

White Associates director Graham White describes the project, as well as the initial learning process, as “incredibly complex”, saying that the mix of 20th Century structures and exacting 21st Century scientific requirements presented just the start of a rare challenge.

“Imagine gutting an old multi-storey building, with all the limitations of working within an existing structure,”  he says.

“Completely stripping the building back, taking it back to its concrete shell, reveals all sorts of things on its own, before you even think about a new roof and cladding. Then add the complexities of doing all of this alongside working laboratories, with scientists doing intricate research that requires highly tuned equipment.

 

Further, because work took place on site over a four-year period, we needed to deal with the evolving nature of the project, as well as materials and labour costs. And, if that wasn’t enough to manage, decisions were also made during the process to add the fitout of a further floor”

Plant and Food Research
Photo Credit: Plant & Food Research

Weng Tan, who managed much of White Associates’ post-contract work on the project, said that the only way to live with the omni-present complexity was to be methodical and to plan for – and deal with – the challenges while progressing towards the overall desired outcome.

We started with a small project of upgrading the server room, then started works on the Cunningham building.” he says.

“Halfway through it, we moved onto the Hamilton building, before Cunningham was finished. We worked carefully, moving from floor to floor, advising the client when each floor would be ready.”

This all sounds reasonably straightforward, but as with all best-laid plans the key is to be able to adapt as they change and evolve. So, what caused challenges?

Fixed budget in place, knowing surprises would emerge

Because of the age of the buildings, it was inevitable that surprises would start to come through during demolition, says Weng, who adds that White Associates director Konrad Trankels had factored this into his approach in the earliest estimating phases.

“A challenge for Konrad was not knowing exactly what would be found once demolition got underway. Floor levels might be out of alignment, or services might not be where there were designed to be, for example. Because we knew we had a fixed budget to work with during construction, we had to create and build up a floor-by-floor budget bandwidth for the project, particularly as it would be built over 3-4 years. Cashflow and accuracy of payments were the key to ensuring delivery within budget. We therefore needed to work closely with the contractor to identify variations, putting costs against them and advising client of them at the earliest point.

 

This meant the project had to be staged floor by floor. The method we came up with was this: if we found errors on a floor, we could likely assume it would be happening on all seven floors. This level of forecasting helped us to put budget aside for each floor. The client would then populate the floor, and construction would move to the next one. By being on top of the budget forecast floor by floor, we could evaluate the challenges as we found them.”

Marrying design requirements with the investment case budget

In an environment of on-site discovery, clarity of design was very important. White Associates’ solution was to work closely with the client and the design team to gain a clear understanding of all non-negotiables from a design perspective, says Weng.

“We worked with everyone involved to arrive at a solution that was fit for purpose and able to be delivered on budget within a forecasted contingency spend.

 

“When completing initial feasibility costs, we assumed potential requirements of the building that were validated with the design team in order to arrive at a robust project budget. We believe our ability to communicate effectively with the wider design team assisted in realistic budget expectations. Once realistic budgets were set, the client had the ability to move forward and procure required scope of services. We needed to work closely with the design team in delivering the project on budget within a forecasted contingency spend.”

Plant and Food Research
Photo Credit: Bossley Architects

This led to a decision to negotiate an extension to the contract, which added the fitout of a further floor.

“The client’s requirement was for the additional work to be done at the same unit rates as the main contract works,” says Weng.

“The main challenge this created was in the services trades, which required analysis of unit rates, labour rates and productivity outputs for each subcontractor’s price for the main contract works and the additional work.

 

Our analysis resulted in reductions to the proposed cost of the additional works, and at the end of our analysis the client was satisfied that the proposed cost of the additional works was at the same unit rates as the main contract works.”

Bringing subcontractors on board for the journey

To achieve a better understanding of these costs, bringing subcontractors further into the team was a big contributor to the project’s success, says Weng.

“A trend over the last ten years has been bringing contractors into the design earlier, and the next trend is to bring subcontractors in if you’re confident in the value you’re getting from them.

 

Early on it was agreed that we would need to bring on subcontractors, and for the services in particular. We went through a process to get them to be part of the team, and then as the design was updated we would work with them on the price for their trade. By doing this early we could plan earlier and they could advise the design team, particularly on staging. When you’re doing air conditioning for example, it doesn’t go in floor by floor, so when you break it down building by building, floor by floor, it needs re-sorting.”

Placing modern workplace design and scientific environments into old fabric

One of the key objectives of the overall project was to encourage greater collaboration between staff groups within Plant & Food Research by introducing a range of alternate ways of working to traditional workspaces. Architectural ingenuity, such as introducing double-height spaces to link the floors vertically, came to the fore, in turn requiring cost expertise to provide services in modern workplace design and scientific environments.

Plant and Food Research
Photo Credit: Plant & Food Research

Design-wise, a JV between renowned Bossley Architects and Lab-works Architecture, which specialises in labs merged two forms of specialty to create a beautiful and functional building.

“It went really smoothly,” says Graham.

“There was good demarcation between specialties, as Bossley had full rein on interior break out spaces and exterior cladding, for example, and Lab-works made the most of the sterile laboratory spaces on each floor. Together they created a brilliant work environment.”

Graham says that client was also ‘brilliant’, taking a hands-on, highly involved, big picture approach.

“It was extremely difficult for them trying to build a facility; scientists being led through a long change management process. Having worked in the buildings in one way for 30-40 years, the project created complete change in both how they work and the laboratories themselves. They met it by running a big process for their people, which of course needed coordination.”

This underscored the importance of understanding the client’s requirements and their non-negotiables at the project outset, to be able to set realistic budgets for them to make their key decisions around, says Weng.

“Labs are incredibly complex buildings. The builders have also had to adjust their attitude to what they are doing, because there are so many challenges. Plant & Food Research science is a very high-precision activity across so many aspects, including air quality, air pressure, condensation, with very high tolerances. The exactness of their instrumentation is astounding.

 

This meant two things for the project. Firstly, extremely high quality design and construction, and, second, no form of vibration in the building was allowed while Plant & Food Research were doing their work. We needed to give the client great heads-up for any noisy works so they could avoid it.”

Complete building upgrades taking place in an operational environment also require key components to be fully understood and costed in initial budgets to allow the client the right level of cost advice in order to make key decisions at the project inception stage, Weng adds.

“The client must be able to stage the project in a particular manner to allow for key budget cash flow requirements. The level of quality and specification for this highly serviced facility has been at the forefront of everyone’s decision, and it was managed effectively to ensure that it was not compromised.”

Outcome: all complete within budget

Plant and Food Research
Photo Credit: Bossley Architects

On 22 November 2018, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the Minister of Research, Science and Innovation, Dr Megan Woods, opened Plant & Food Research’s new facility.

This redevelopment has been a huge project, but the result – the new high-quality, purpose-built facilities of the Hamilton, Cunningham and Padfield buildings – will allow us to deliver more and better science for our partners and New Zealand,” said David Hughes, CEO of Plant & Food Research, at the opening.

“Through a combination of fundamental and applied science, much of which has connections to our Mt Albert Research Centre, we will deliver a smart, green future for our industries, for New Zealand and the world.”

Graham White agrees, adding:

“Six years ago White Associates started putting numbers together for this complex project, and delivery occurred within budget, even over this substantial period of time. It was immensely satisfying to see it completed to such exacting requirements, on budget, and we are all so pleased that it has been nominated for a Property Council award. Our fingers are crossed that it will do incredibly well.”

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To view a timelapse of the project posted by Plant & Food Research: 

https://www.instagram.com/p/BqbHmQql3Iu/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link