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Learning to take shelter

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A New Zealand design challenge hopes to inspire homes that shelter us from climate change, peak oil and natural resource depletion, as well as the odd brisk southerly.

The 20-month Sustainable Habitat Challenge is the brainchild of the Otago Polytechnic design school, headed up by Alistair Regan, and has been supported by the Ministry for the Environment’s Sustainable Management Fund. Ten teams from academic institutions across the country have each been tasked with designing and building a sustainable home.

Although participants are split into teams, the emphasis is on collaboration between the groups to get the best overall results. There are now at least 500 people working directly on the challenge at any one time, with around double that number engaged in it in some way.

With less than a year left to run, the teams are at various stages of development. Some are still on the drawing board and others are jumping through various council planning hoops. But two, the Bach 101 project on Rangitoto and a local modular building system at Lake Rotoiti, are already under construction.

Working within the regulations and with the local community have become key features of the event. This is partly because the Ministry for the Environment’s money did not extend to funding the teams’ individual designs, so they must     find sponsors to turn their dreams into reality. 

The zero.plus team based at the University of Auckland’s School of Architecture and Planning is one of the most qualified groups taking part, with representatives from academic institutions in Germany, Austria, Italy and Liechtenstein. They plan to build the southern hemisphere’s first passive house in Auckland, which will use super-efficient insulation, double glazing and other techniques to radically lower its energy use.

Team member Dr Paola Leardini says securing land and funds have so far been the key hurdles for their project, but the real test was in combining environmental performance with high-quality architecture. “The more rules you have the more difficult it is to have a really nice design,” she says. “But that is our challenge—to prove it can be done.”

Regan envisages the annual challenge developing to include other design disciplines. “Thus far most of them aren’t at the bleeding edge of sustainable design, but they are offering a lot of people a chance to see where we can go—2010, 2011 and 2012 is where we will push it a bit, at the moment it’s about building a firm base to work from.

“It isn’t just about housing. It’s about how we travel to and from the homes, how we live in them and more.”

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