In the most ambitious example of a sustainable building project seen in New Zealand, the new headquarters for Tuhoe is aiming to achieve Living Building Challenge certification – the most advanced measure of sustainability around.
CONSTRUCTION BEGAN in February 2013 on a new $15 million headquarters for Tūhoe in the Bay of Plenty. Designed for net-zero impact on energy, water and toxic materials, it is due for completion in December this year. The building, Te Wharehou o Tūhoe, is being built at Taneatua, near Whakatane.
Project partners Tūhoe, Jasmax Architects and Arrow International aim to meet the demanding environmental standard prescribed by the Living Building Challenge (LBC) on the design and build.
Run by the International Living Future Institute, LBC certification requires that a project achieves rigorous physical sustainability targets but also enhances social and community outcomes.
As a green building certification programme said to define the most advanced measure possible of sustainability in the built environment, LBC claims to diminish the gap between current limits and ideal solutions.
One-third of the Tūhoe headquarters will be taken up with administration offices, with the rest of the space used for a range of facilities including an exhibition area for artists, a library, community meeting rooms, organic gardens, taonga storage rooms, and a café. The Atea, an amphitheatre-style entranceway, will be a major feature, serving as a venue for hui.
A values-driven approach
Setting bold LBC sustainability targets has required the use of design and construction processes that are new to the industry here, adding complexity and cost to the build.
Tūhoe see it as worth the effort – Tūhoe Chairman Tamati Kruger says building to such tough environmental standards reflects the values of the Tūhoe people.
Environmental impact should always be of primary concern, says Tūhoe Chief Executive Kirsti Luke. ‘People come and go, but if your natural resources are depleted, people have nothing. That’s the order of things.’
Jeff Vivian, Project Manager with Arrow International, shares the client’s vision. ‘Tūhoe has given us an exceptional opportunity to do things never done before,’ he says.
‘The Living Building concept is about so much more than sourcing a few old logs and throwing some solar panels onto the roof – it’s about building in a completely different way, using new methods and sometimes new materials to produce something that, hopefully, will be an inspiration to all.’
Seven layers of sustainability
Following stringent guidelines set down by the LBC, the process of designing, building and operating the finished building must be considered sustainable across seven performance areas: site, water, energy, health, materials, equity and beauty (see page 50).
Second-tier targets under these categories stipulate that buildings must also educate the people that use them, motivate them to make change and contain design features that inspire and delight.
The suggestion that Tūhoe should aim for LBC certification initially came from the architects, Jasmax. Jerome Partington, Sustainability Manager at Jasmax, says the standard of the building ‘shows the way to a different future, where we value people and a healthy environment that supports life and the economy, not one at the expense of the other’.
Challenges in meeting LBC
As part of the LBC, strict attention is paid to the materials used. LBC requirements go beyond any existing New Zealand codes, and it was initially difficult for the designers to source materials and suppliers as the processing and production of all building materials has to be proven to be free of toxins, poisons and materials produced in an unsustainable way.
During the design process it became clear that meeting LBC guidelines would be made tougher by New Zealand’s remote location and relatively small construction industry.
One challenge faced was weighing up the impact of using local materials that are not 100% green compared with the impact of transporting something greener from overseas.
Another challenge was finding a way to track native logs through certified mills and ensure that they do not come into contact with chemical treatment products.
The design team found, however, that many businesses were keen to modify their processes for this project to make them comply with LBC criteria.
Specific building features
Achieving LBC goals meant sustainability across all possible areas:
- The north-facing building will be completely insulated to control temperature and natural ventilation used throughout. It will be sealed at night to ensure that heat captured in the concrete floor is retained.
- The building will capture its own water across the property for drinking and for use in the bathrooms and fire sprinklers.
- Sewage from the minimal-flush toilets will be funnelled through a natural wetland on site for complete processing.
- Energy from 288 solar panels across the entire roof will generate power, with excess sold to the electrical grid.
- Tūhoe has always been inextricably linked with Te Urewera forest region, and the building will reflect this with fallen trees from the forest used in the floor.
Meeting social targets of LBC
Getting LBC recognition means making social and community improvements during the building’s creation and operation. As a part of the building process, Tūhoe has involved iwi members and locals where possible to create opportunities for employment and learning.
Tūhoe is hosting open days during interesting times of the build such as when the building piles went in and the timber structure goes up.
When completed, the building aims to be a focal point and a meeting place for the Tūhoe people and for those in the region.
Symbol of commitment to nature
Working to deliver an LBC Living Building will come at a price, in terms of both money and effort. But whether the building achieves Living Building status or not, Tūhoe Chairman Tamati Kruger believes its unique form and function is important as a way to demonstrate Tūhoe’s commitment to nature.
‘We are pushing something that is extremely hard at the moment, but our goal is that people, starting with the Tūhoe people, see that as their responsibility,’ says Kruger.
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