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Sustainable Habitat Challenge Winners Inspire Better Living

A retrofit of a Housing New Zealand home to improve living experiences of those on low incomes and a thermally detailed straw bale house in Central Otago were Friday judged the winners of the Sustainable Habitat Challenge.

For the Challenge, teams were given less than two years to design, fund and create their vision for more sustainable housing. Altogether nine teams entered from around New Zealand, resulting in eight new builds and retrofits. The awards were announced at a ceremony this evening at the Port Chalmers Town Hall, as part of the Sustainable Habitat Challenge Symposium held this weekend. The challenge was judged by luminaries in the world of sustainable development, including architect Dave Strachan, Beacon Pathway Manager Nick Collins, researchers Maggie Lawton and Nigel Isaacs and broadcaster and Dunedin City Councillor Dave Cull.

Team Housewise was the winner of the Retrofit section. Comprised of members from Housing New Zealand, University of Auckland, New Zealand Housing Foundation and Landcare Research, the team explored how an existing house could provide a more comfortable, healthy and sustainable living experience for the family.

Project leader Stuart Bracey from Housing New Zealand explains that a typical upgrade package normally costs around $60,000, "and we know what we can do for that - replacing bathrooms and kitchens, insulating ceilings and floors, and so on. But what if we spent $100,000? Could we go further in setting up more energy-efficient, health-enhancing homes? What kind of long-term return might taxpayers see for this investment, in terms of the lifespan of the house, the health of the tenants and the reduction of our carbon footprint?"

In presenting the award, Cull commented on "the inspiring potential of the project to make a difference to New Zealand."

The winner of the New Build section, Team Central Otago incorporating Otago Polytechnic's Central Otago campus and Sol Design, excelled for its attention to detail. The very well insulated strawbale house provides a range of comfortable living spaces while making use of a range of innovative building materials. Technical challenges included incorporating a 5-tonne masonry stove and sauna into the design for the Finnish client - features that supported the thermal efficiency of the home. The home was praised by the judges for its extensive use of recycled and natural materials, which included concrete slabs from an industrial building under demolition and window-framing timber from old hospital beds. "We were struck by the holistic and aesthetically pleasing approach to sustainability taken by the team," comments Lawton.

At the awards ceremony, further projects were also commended for excellence in their support of the Challenge's aims. Commended for Vision: The Plant Room for revitalizing Wellington inner city apartments with a bolt-on garden room; Waikato for its unrealised SIP panel design and backyard sleepout; Whareuku for low-cost housing for rural north island; BACH 101 on Rangitoto Island for only retrofitting what was needed; Ecocrib for considering products that work in concert with the homeowners to make using less energy and water fun and easy.

Commended for Collaboration: Team Canterbury and Team Dunedin for pulling together entire tertiary organisations; Whareuku for student-led team including engineering, a fine-arts exhibition and film crew; Team Housewise for closely working with a tenant to meet family's aspirations for their home; BACH101 for working with the leaseholder. 

Commended for Communication: Whareuku for their deep involvement of local community; Team Dunedin for their unique labelling system highlighting the many hidden features; The Plant Room for hosting public design sessions, colouring book sessions and events that built a design through community thinking.

Commended for Innovation: Whareuku for earth walls strengthened physically and culturally with flax fibres, providing a literal connection to the land; Team Central Otago for reuse of materials, including designing the house to fit the recycled windows. 

SHAC Coordinator Tim Bishop has nothing but praise for the nine teams who created entries for the challenge. "It was a big ask. But the Challenge tapped a real vein of skill and enthusiasm in the community, engaging staff students, businesses, tradespeople, iwi and others. Teams made use of the programme to explore ideas, and came up with interesting, creative and achievable results. We can feel very optimistic about the future of more sustainable housing in New Zealand."

The Challenge was established by Otago Polytechnic and supported by the Ministry for the Environment. It required teams, led by tertiary institutions, to consider issues such as resource efficiency, simplicity and affordability. The success and potential of the Sustainable Habitat Challenge has generated enthusiasm for the concept to be continued into the future. 

Otago Polytechnic has announced that it will commit to supporting the programme, and is currently looking for partners to join them in the effort for SHAC 2011.

Detailed reports on team designs, useful to designers, architects, and engineers, are available at the team pages on the web site.  A short book for a more general audience describing the teams homes and methods is available for download or order at  A documentary is underway and will be available on DVD soon.

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