Designing for a climate change-conscious world

This Issue This is a part of the Building for climate change feature

By - , Build 188

Peddlethorp Architects Director Manuel Diaz reviews the challenges posed by MBIE’s Building for climate change programme and the implications for architects and builders – as well as the benefits for all.

THE NEED TO urgently address the threat of climate change to the future of the Earth is now utterly undeniable. For its part, Aotearoa New Zealand has committed to be a net-zero carbon economy by 2050. Acknowledging the fact that around one-fifth of carbon emissions come from the construction industry, it’s not surprising that the sector has been targeted for change to reduce those emissions.

Changes are coming

MBIE’s proposed Building for climate change programme is a visionary initiative. It looks at improvements both in the way we build to decarbonise construction, but also in how our buildings function to deliver an energy saving and sustainability dividend over their operational life and be resilient in the face of climate change.

There is some momentum to the programme, with changes to the Building Code already taking place that will impose stricter New Zealand Green Building Council Homestar requirements through till 2035. This is well overdue – the Code has tended to require a basic level of sustainability performance in the past.

But MBIE’s draft blueprint and the impending roll-out of the programme are not without controversy. The complexity of the proposed changes has drawn criticism, as have uncertainties around the cost implications while the industry is contending with significant labour and skills shortages. A lack of clear and concise information about the requirements also hampers client decision making.

Quantum shift in thinking

For us as architects, the launch of the programme calls for a quantum shift in our thinking – as it does for the whole construction industry.

Any changes must begin at the design stage. We need to take the lead on bringing in these changes and demonstrate our proposed buildings will produce fewer emissions in construction and in operation after that.

But the process needs to be collaborative. We need to have everyone around the table – main and subcontractors, councils, clients, iwi and the community. Designing and building to meet the new standards and carbon-reduction targets will call for new technologies, innovation, new materials and new construction processes – and all parties will need education around these new regimes.

Using sustainable solutions

Fortunately, the industry and research organisations are finding and developing sustainable solutions to meet carbon-reduction goals.

We are immensely proud to be working with Kāinga Ora on one solution – a 3-storey 18-home public housing passive house development. The Bader Ventura project in Māngere, Auckland, will include many innovations to reduce embodied carbon and improve energy use.

The first such government-funded passive house public housing development in Australasia, Bader Ventura will feature air quality-controlled ventilation, high-performance insulation and airtightness along with controls to reduce heating, cooling and energy demands. It will provide a year-round temperate building environment, benefiting all occupants.

A key emphasis in the design and construction will be the elimination of thermal bridges and improving the building envelope performance with a focus on airtightness, while still providing flexibility through design to allow Kiwis to be connected to outdoor spaces.

Upskilling necessary now

The changes required by the programme won’t flow easily, but they must take place. The onus will be on designers, clients, authorities and contractors to upskill and quickly.

The payoff for the environment and ultimately the health of the planet from these carbon-reduction initiatives is clear, as are the benefits for those who will occupy these new buildings. Well-built homes may see savings in heating bills of up to 80% in winter, while the wider health benefits of warm, dry homes are undeniable.

To see projects like Kāinga Ora’s Bader Ventura taking shape also gives me huge optimism about the future of our society and tamariki, who will grow up in a world where climate change is the norm.

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