“The purpose of my work is to make buildings easy to change,” says XFrame Co-Founder and PhD Candidate Gerard Finch. “The premise is that, if you can make buildings easy to change, they don’t produce as much waste over their life cycle because the parts that they’re made of can be recovered and reused. There are obvious environmental advantages to that, but also economic advantages because you are reusing product multiple times and reducing mess and time on site.”
Ged began his research into reusable materials about 5 years ago as a Master’s student in Architecture at Victoria University. “My Master’s thesis started as an exploration of how to make a more material-efficient house and evolved into a study of circular economies. I then had the opportunity to commercialise the product that I came up with and, with some seed funding from Kiwinet, I was able evolve the idea from research to a growing business in Australia and New Zealand.”
The product Ged created during his masters studies is the XFrame system, a self-braced structural matrix formed from milled engineered plywood components, enabling buildings to be easily changed without creating waste. “X Frame's diagonal grid structure makes sense because the end result is a perfectly square and very geometrically stable frame. This is really important because if you have a self-bracing structure, you no longer have to fix lining materials to it to keep it stable, which then allows you to change the way linings are connected to the structure, deconstruct the wall behind it and reuse the components elsewhere.”
Another advantage, Ged says, is that XFrame’s structure and shape creates conditions where all the fixing positions for linings are very well known, creating .5mm of tolerance, as opposed to the 5-10mm that the building industry is more used to seeing. “There are no issues with components not fitting or being out of alignment because it’s designed to be perfectly square,” he says.
Since working out the geometries which make XFrame’s three product scales – parts, sections and panels – successful, Ged’s focus has been on getting the products to work within established regulatory systems in the building industry. “There’s been a lot of focus on meeting regulations, structural certifications and fixing certifications, and ensuring that we’ve iterated and development-tested for every fringe or specialised case.”
Alongside his work with XFrame, Ged is now in the final stages of writing his PhD at Victoria University, supported by the Building Research Levy. “The research that I’m doing now is very much in the assessment of circularity in building products, which is fantastic because I can still work on XFrame but also learn more about its impact. I get to prototype, put it in the world and evaluate it; then pull every element apart and test its durability. I love that there’s no barrier or separation between the design, prototyping and making. It’s all one process where I can be very hands-on.”
A rural childhood in Central Otago with a father who was an art teacher helped to shape Ged’s design and manufacturing aspirations, he says. “I’ve always liked making things. That side of my life was definitely enhanced by my dad and from living on a farm. In retrospect, I probably should’ve been an engineer, but my creativity drew me to architecture and design instead. I do think that important innovation is happening in the engineering space, though, which is why I’ve really pushed the product side of things. As an architect, you can’t invent systems that solve the waste issues in the industry; you have to use what’s already available. So I’ve really focused on making those systems and providing them to other architects to use as they see fit.”
Ged joins Teulo Talks Studio this month to talk to the Teulo community about the circular economy, in particular in high-change spaces. “Retail, for instance, generally has the shortest lifespan of any kind of architecture, so it’s a great place for us to start showing value really quickly. I’ll be sharing some work we’re currently doing on a case study for a large bank in Australia where we’re doing retail fit-outs under a circular economy umbrella to showcase how viable it really is to do that. I will also be talking to the Teulo audience about how you can accurately measure environmentally sustainable design, and how to weigh the necessary compromises to achieve your architectural vision while still pushing for circularity.”
Ged is looking forward to finishing his PhD later this year and continuing to advance XFrame’s reach and technical capability. “We currently have a team in Adelaide where we set up our business operations with support from Green Industries South Australia. We’re hoping to eventually grow into Melbourne and Sydney as well.” Next month, Ged is heading to NeoCon in Chicago to join an exhibition of more than 400 game-changing product manufacturers who are convening for 3 days to showcase the latest and most innovative solutions in commercial design. “This is part of our expansion plan to formally enter the US market with a partner who can take orders and distribute product for us there. But one thing that remains important to us is to keep the knowledge export coming from Wellington and continue showing the high value of work coming out of New Zealand. That will always be part of the XFrame story: keeping that knowledge and expertise here.”
The pandemic has accelerated the need for changeable spaces, Ged says. With many offices looking to create partitions to break up open-plan areas and home workers considering how to better separate their living and professional spaces, there are a lot of new opportunities for XFrame products to be retrofitted into existing buildings. He’s also expecting XFrame’s full potential to start becoming more evident, as some of his early projects now begin to repurpose and redesign their original materials. “We’re really only just starting to see some of that happen now, with our first install from back in 2018. They’ve pulled the whole thing down, moved offices and are now reconstructing it. It’s amazing to start seeing the real-world impacts of the work we’re doing. There’s nothing quite like pulling the wall lining off at a building site and, in 5 minutes, you’ve already started disassembling it to get it ready for its next life as something else.”
To learn more, join Ged in Wellington for Teulo Talks Studio on the 27th of May, pop along to NeoCon in Chicago on the 13th-15th of June, visit https://xframe.com.au/ (where you can find a range of Ged’ research and technical resources) and follow XFrame on LinkedIn and Instagram.