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Tūhoe starts work on NZ's first ‘Living Building’

Tūhoe starts work on New Zealand’s first ‘Living Building’

Work began this month on New Zealand’s first living building.

Te Wharehou o Tūhoe, the new Tūhoe headquarters in Taneatua, near Whakatane, has been designed to have no environmental impact, be integrated into its surrounding landscape and to give back to the world around it. It will be the most advanced sustainable building in New Zealand.

Tūhoe Chairman Tamati Kruger said the decision to build the iwi’s new headquarters to such tough environmental standards reflects the environmental values of the Tūhoe people. “Though the cost may be higher initially, over the years the building will more than pay for itself. We hope it’s something that all the people of the Whakatane district will be proud of and will use as their own.”

Following stringent guidelines set down by the International Living Futures Institute, 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. It will be triple Net Zero for energy, water and waste.

Each step of the build has to follow rigorous standards from where the materials are sourced to how they are transported and used including their embodied carbon. Tūhoe plans to use its own timber supplies for around 95% of the building - including newly harvested trees for construction and gifted fallen and dead trees from the Urewera’s forest for landscaping, flooring and seating.

“People come and go, but if your natural resources are depleted, people have nothing. That’s the order of things,” says Kirsti Luke, Tuhoe’s Chief Executive. But for Tūhoe, this building is about a lot more than the environment. “For most choosing a location for your office headquarters is a straight forward decision. For Tūhoe it’s a very political decision: it will be the first central office it has had in centuries.”

Together with Kiwi building company Arrow International and architects Jasmax, Tūhoe will be trialling innovative building methods and overcoming many hurdles to meet the Living Building Challenge (LBC) guidelines, many of which are made tougher by New Zealand’s remote location. These include sourcing products and materials that contain Zero toxic chemicals and weighing up the impact of using local materials that are not 100% ‘green’ compared with transporting something “greener” from miles away. Other challenges include designing novel systems to deal with wastewater; heating and cooling the building efficiently, generating solar energy and finding a way to track native logs through certified mills. The project will also include a world-first for its seismic resistant timber structure.

Attempting to build New Zealand’s first Living Building is not for the faint-hearted, says Jeff Vivian, Project Manager with Arrow International. “Tūhoe has given us an exceptional opportunity to do things never done before. 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, sometimes new materials, to produce something that, hopefully, will be an inspiration for all. It will showcase to see what really can be achieved if we’re courageous and work together.”

For Kirsti Luke, Tūhoe’s Chief Executive, the plan for the iwi’s $15 million new headquarters is not so much a step into the future as a step into the past. “It’s how things used to be. When it was hot, we’d open a window. When it was cold, we’d throw on a jersey. Embracing simple concepts like this are not only good for the environment that surrounds us it’s good for us too. It reminds us about what’s important; about people and our place within the bigger scheme of things.”

‘This building is a lighthouse in a world awash with climate change and social inequality, it shows the way to a different future, where we value people and a healthy environment which supports life and the economy, not one at the expense of the other” says Jerome Partington, Jasmax

After a troubled past, Kruger says he’s excited Tūhoe has embraced the Living Building concept and will be creating something all New Zealanders can be truly proud of.

- Ends -

images are courtesy of Jasmax

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