From cradle to home
A home tucked away in the bush on Great Barrier Island is self-sufficient in terms of energy use, and at the end of its life is designed to either return to the earth or become something else.
What if our homes provided all their own food, water and energy needs, and when we were done with them we could recycle the whole thing?
Welcome to the Cradle-to-Cradle approach to house building, an example of which has just been completed on a discreet site on the west coast of Great Barrier Island in the midst of a regenerating Kauri forest. Designed by architect David Loughlin for couple who split their time between Auckland and the Island with their teenage children, ‘Barrier House’ has everything they need, and is designed so that when it is no longer needed, it can completely disappear.
The concept of Cradle-to-Cradle was developed by architect and designer William McDonough and environmental chemist Dr. Michael Braungart in 1992. It is an attempt to go beyond our conventional ‘cradle-to-grave approach’, where our industrial system depends on digging natural resources up, turning them into short-lived poorly designed things, using them for a while and then burying them in a hole. Instead, it promotes the creation of things that actually improve the environment around them in their production, use and disposal.
Although not officially certified with Cradle-to-Cradle, the house has been inspired by the approach, and incorporates many of the key principles into its design.
Loughlin says: “The brief was to create the greenest possible home, and to explore the way light could work on this site. The house is totally ‘off-grid’, meaning it gets its own electricity from photovoltaic solar panels, hot water and heating from solar panels, drinking and washing water from an ancient spring and rainwater is harvested off the roof. And once the water is used it is filtered and recycled for growing in a small community garden.”
In addition, many of the materials used to build the house have been reclaimed from elsewhere, and all of them are rapidly renewable and would generate no lasting waste in disposal. It has also been designed to pack away and be easily rebuilt elsewhere.
Also important to the concept is the home’s usability and durability: it is designed as a legacy home that will be passed down through generations. The layout of the home is based on rooms separated by a covered courtyard, providing flexibility in the way that each room is used, and giving different generations of family and guests the privacy they need. Loughlin also created a fully adjustable ‘skin’ of sliding glass doors and timber louvres that filter the sunlight and breeze throughout the building.
He estimates that the cost of taking this approach may have increased the initial building cost by about 25% on a more conventional build.
“It’s about slightly more investment now that you get back later,” he says. “The only bill they get now is the rates bill, which is quite cool. It’s warm and cosy and comfortable. You can easily accommodate 50 people for a party. Hopefully it lifts the human spirit and makes people feel good.”
Although this was something of a special project, partly because of its remote location, Loughlin believes the same principles can and should be applied more widely.
“I think it’s a way of thinking and just being more critical about the choices you make. It might cost more, but not in the overall evaluation. I think it could easily be incorporated into everyday living. It is just about an awareness and working towards that ideal.”