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.

Element - - Architecture Feature - By Andy Ken­wor­thy

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.”

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