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New Zealand natives in Washington DC

From the beach right through to mountains—taking visitors on a journey through Kiwi landscapes is central to the ambitions of Victoria University’s First Light—the first ever team from the Southern Hemisphere to make it to the finals of the US Solar Decathlon competition, held in Washington DC next year. As they explain in their latest blog, designing a unique Kiwi landscape to go with their soalr bach concept is one thing, but how do you go about sourcing native New Zealand plants in Washington DC?

The First Light house takes its inspiration from the classic Kiwi bach and focuses on a strong connection with the outdoors. This connection makes landscaping a very important part of the design as a whole, and in showcasing New Zealand to the world. Creating a landscape design for the Solar Decathlon competition, which has very strict rules has created a number of challenges for the team.

When first discussing what we wanted to achieve with our landscape design, we decided that we wanted to showcase the bach landscape. The bach is often associated with the beach, but baches can be found in a variety of landscapes. We wanted to reflect this variety in our design to show visitors from around the world what it feels like to live amongst the unique New Zealand landscape.

The landscape design aims to take a visitor to the house on a journey of changing landscapes from the beach to the mountains, using native New Zealand plants. The journey begins with a coastal edge created in front of the house with a constructed dune landscape featuring a range of coastal grasses. As you travel around the right side of the house you enter into a coastal shrub land with flaxes and shrubs. This leads you behind the house which replicates the forest edge with ferns and other natives creating lush edges and privacy from surrounding sites. As you come back around to the front of the house flax-like plants lead to the large deck area, which is perfect for socialising. Decking almost completely surrounds the house allowing a bridge between the interior and the outdoors.

A huge challenge in achieving our landscaping vision has been finding where to source New Zealand native plants in Washington DC—where the Solar Decathlon competition is being held. We searched for suppliers and found that the closest place, which grows all of the “exotic” species we need is based in California. This means plants will need to be transported all the way from the West coast to the East coast—a trip that takes around 46 hours by car. Emory Knoll Farms in Maryland, which is close to the competition site, have kindly offered to “harden off” and care for the plants until the competition takes place in September 2011. 

With only seven days to fully construct the house and complete all of the landscaping, we needed a system that could be easily transported. Another rule in the competition states the landscaping must not penetrate the ground surface. These restrictions have forced us to think carefully about how we can achieve the result we are after as simply and elegantly as possible. 

As with the house itself, the decking will be constructed into modules which can be lifted into place for a quick assembly process. We will also use a range of planter boxes that will be built here in New Zealand and shipped over to the US. The planter boxes will be self contained and able to be placed directly on site with no construction needed. The boxes have been designed with the height of the deck in mind to create a raised garden that begins at deck level and integrates the landscape and the house. 

If we succeed with our vision, then visitors to the First Light house on the National Mall in Washington DC will feel as if they've just taken a trip to New Zealand.

Check out the other blog entries from First Light

An actively passive house

What’s in a name? 

A team explosion (of size)

Showcasing Kiwi lifestyle to the world

How do you ship a house from Wellington to Washington?