Innovation and Leadership

Pioneers of a new era of low-cost prefabricated housing in New Zealand

Keith Hay pioneered the transportable housing market when, in the 1930's, he won a tender to relocate an American army camp from the Auckland Domain to Panmure by using the novel method of shifting the buildings in large sections instead of dismantling them.

New Zealand’s desperate housing shortage after the war provided an opening for an innovative approach. Constructing houses in a central assembly yard and then transporting them to suburban or rural sites, he pioneered a new era of low-cost prefabricated housing in New Zealand.

Transforming home construction through the use of native timbers, new materials and new production methods

Hay saw the potential of replacing expensive imported timbers and relatively scarce native timbers with Pinus radiata for house construction.  Pine was a renewable source of timber and could be nailed more quickly.

Through the 1950s Hay fought the conservatism of local councils and building societies to make building with Pinus radiata permissible. He was also an innovator in speeding up production methods, cutting labour costs, and incorporating plastics and other new materials into home construction.

An entrepreneurial Mayor

In 1950 Hay began a long parallel career of 42 years in local politics. After one term on Mount Roskill Borough Council he was elected Mayor in 1953.

Here, too, he was an entrepreneurial leader. He swiftly sold council plant, contracted out services, doubled the rates, and borrowed £1 million. His council made dramatic improvements to the basic amenities of a semi-rural district. The population grew quickly and Mount Roskill became New Zealand’s largest borough.

Source: Margaret McClure. 'Hay, Keith Wilson - Biography', from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 1-Sep-10 , URL: