Forward thinker

, Build 142

It’s clear architectural designer Craig Jarvis has always been up for a challenge, and now, in possibly the biggest test of all, he has registered the first New Zealand home to attempt to achieve the very strict criteria set by the Living Building Challenge.

Craig Jarvis with his children Quinn and Jonah.
Craig Jarvis with his children Quinn and Jonah.

CRAIG WAS RAISED IN DUNEDIN, in a home where there wasn’t much money but plenty of making do. ‘My parents were very good at providing for themselves,’ he says. ‘We grew vegetables, and my mother made clothes.

‘I wonder if this was the inspiration for my desire to live a simpler life?’

Heading offshore

At 16, he started a building apprenticeship, completed it and then headed to London travelling on a one-way ticket. Two and a half years later, he was on the move again, shifting to Melbourne where he started a commercial building and project management firm.

‘Most of our work was high-end commercial fit-out work in the city,’ he says. ‘There was stress and pressure but the business was successful, and I moved into design work.

Business pressures

By 2004, at the age of 36, he shifted back home, settling in Christchurch. There, he built a house for himself and his family, gave up the tools and developed his building practice into a design and project management company.

‘I had a business again, and that wasn’t my intention. I’ve always felt the more successful we become, the more we have, the more we require. It’s nonsense. There’s never enough.’

Life changes

A subsequent marriage breakdown triggered more changes. He asked some big questions: ‘What is contentment? What is a simple life?’

The answers provided a framework for the future. ‘A person who lives in a house with little or no debt, who can grow their own food and who doesn’t have to pay power or water bills is rich,’ he says. ‘They have choices – they can live a full life.’

It’s what he wanted. ‘I built a 13 m2 hut, moved in with my kids, turned the power off and waited to see what happened.

‘A funny thing happens when you live like that – it takes time to learn to relax into it and become more in tune with nature. You learn to live with nature, not against it.

Taking it further

But this wasn’t the stopping point. ‘This kind of life is not an answer but a step to where I am going. There is a middle ground where you embrace science to achieve a better life.’

When he learnt about the Living Building Challenge (see Build 136, page 50), Craig found his thoughts were dovetailing with what was happening elsewhere.

‘When I discovered the Living Building Challenge, I connected with the principles – aspiring to do less harm to the environment and create healthy spaces. The goal is restorative architecture – taking responsibility for our actions and acknowledging the damaging effects of our current ways.’

A housing challenge

Craig’s own registered living building project, a house at Taylors Mistake in Christchurch, is an experiment that asks, ‘Can it be done?’

‘Can we build a house that heats itself, collects water and treats its own waste? That purifies air quality inside the house and has no toxic materials. That uses locally sourced and manufactured solutions?’

The house, 2 years in design, will be only 88 m2 but have 3 bedrooms. Off the grid, it will have pv panels, a plant-covered roof and rainwater storage. No electricity bills here.

He would like others to explore the Living Building Challenge. ‘If someone took what I had started and turned it into something better, that’s the solution, that’s the result.

‘It’s not just about trying to gain certification, it’s about asking the questions. There is a ripple effect – I am a volunteer ambassador for the Living Building Challenge now. If I give a talk and people resonate with the principles, they start asking questions of their project, their suppliers and manufacturers. They question the impact of their building.

‘This is the goal – it is no longer an option.’

For more

Visit [email protected]

Download the PDF

More articles about these topics

Articles are correct at the time of publication but may have since become outdated.

Craig Jarvis with his children Quinn and Jonah.
Craig Jarvis with his children Quinn and Jonah.