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Archive for the ‘Architecture & Construction’ Category

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NZ eco-development demonstrates the business value of energy efficiency

Posted on: June 24th, 2008 | Filed in Architecture & Construction, Green

Earlier this month I wrote a post titled “Eco design and speedy construction could deliver sustainable and affordable housing” – in it I made this statement:

It seems from this UK project that this government and the community’s aspiration to meet the ideals of affordable housing; eco-friendly construction as well as building communities could be met which such a blue-print development – all we need is a NZ developer to step up.

Well it seems that one developer has taken me at my word! – Kensington Properties Ltd.

Kensington Park is a $400 million development of 40 acres comprising over 700 properties – currently under construction at Orewa, north of Auckland.

There are a couple of very interesting aspects to the development that caught my eye – primarily the focus on energy efficiency and secondly the consumer demand.

In regard to energy efficiency the claim is that the electricity bills for owners could be cut by more than half in a project aimed at slashing home power costs. Patrick Fontein, Managing Director of Kensington Properties and Chairman of the New Zealand Green Building Council, told me that houses which would usually cost $2,000 a year to run should cost only $800, according to the projections provided by Right House, the energy efficiency advisory service set up by the state-owned energy company Meridian Energy.

Right House has been working on the project for a year, fine-tuning the eco-friendly aspects. Some of the more commonly overlooked aspects when planning a new home are the very things that can have the most impact on our comfort and health. It’s not just about saving money on power. Home heating, water heating, energy efficiency and the control of the interior environment are treated as integral parts of the Kensington Park building process.

For example floor slabs which the houses stand on will be wrapped to insulate them against heat gains and losses. The houses will be oriented on their sites for maximum energy efficiency and have water-heating solar panels installed on each roof. Low-energy heat pumps will be installed for maximum heating and energy savings. Windows will be double-glazed to minimise heat transfer. All storm-water will be treated on the site via a lake and weir system which separates sediments. Stormwater will also be recycled and used to irrigate gardens in public areas.

Kensington Park NZ It is very interesting to note the financial decisions taken by Kensington Properties. They concede that there is an additional construction cost for delivering this standard of energy efficiency and eco-friendly design, but they consider the purchaser interest alone as proof that it’s well worth it. By their calculations a one-off house with these features would cost $50,000 extra, however they have driven this cost down to just $30,000 extra per home to construct because their applying scale factors by applying their approach to all of the houses at once.

Kensington Park Asia Pacific Property Awards 2008This offer of efficiency, environmental consideration and master plan design that focuses on a true community is the reason behind the fact that even though real estate sales are sluggish at best at the moment the interest level of buyers remains strong for these new houses at Kensington Park.

To add to this encouraging story is the fact that the development has been awarded the CNBC Asia Pacific Property Award for Best Overall Development, Best Property Marketing and Best Architecture. This is believed to be the only time a NZ company has won this award – beating stiff competition from Australia, China, India, Thailand and Japan.

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Eco design and speedy construction could deliver sustainable and affordable housing

Posted on: June 7th, 2008 | Filed in Architecture & Construction

A new development outside of Milton Keynes in the UK is featured in an article in this month’s edition of Wired magazine. Oxley Woods is being built by George Wimpey UK – one of the largest UK building firms. This development of 145 eco-friendly homes has been designed around a community environment with the combined benefits of environmentally sustainable construction and affordable housing.

The houses ranging from 2 to 5 bedrooms and feature the award winning design of the UK government’s scheme to build a quality house for £60,000 ($150,000). The fundamental component of the success of the design and quality of the build lies in the fact that most of the house is constructed off-site and then constructed on site in a day and a half (excluding services and other finishing work which adds another 4 weeks).

The key to the eco design is a solar powered ventilation system which provide a healthy home through a concept called at EcoHat which is part of the roof design.

There is much that could be adopted in NZ from such a design and development, as previously posted back in January – the modular construction form of commercial construction can drive efficiency of construction and therefore drive out costs. Equally building the panels off-site makes for a faster more efficient construction as well as enabling the most environmentally considerate construction materials and insulation.

A wonderful example of this off-site “kitset” house is the German house builder Huf which was showcased on the excellent Grand Design series on the Living Channel. These striking houses are high end but as the programme profiled, everything right down to electrical, plumbing and wall coverings are part of the wall panel construction undertaken in the factory to incredible tolerances before being delivered to site.

It seems from this UK project that this government and the community’s aspiration to meet the ideals of affordable housing; eco-friendly construction as well as building communities could be met which such a blue-print development – all we need is a NZ developer to step up.

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Auckland – key pointers to future growth and real estate opportunity

Posted on: April 23rd, 2008 | Filed in Architecture & Construction, Media commmentary, Regional News

The front page of the NZ Herald yesterday highlighted some telling indications of future sustainable drivers of the Auckland and NZ real estate market. For whilst we are in the midst of a seriously stalling property market, you have to look to the future to see where this market may be 5 years from now.

Proposed Westfield Tower downtown Auckland NZ HeraldThe lead article featured the artists impression of the proposed 41 storey office and retail development on the Downtown Shopping centre. This development coupled with the 67 storey apartment tower at the Elliot are being proposed by developers who are not novices to such developments. They are making proposals having spent many thousands of man hours and potentially millions of dollars researching the key drivers of demand in the commercial and residential market over the next 10 to 20 years – their verdict is clear. Auckland is growing and will continue to grow, as a consequence it will need places for people to work and places for people to live.

Adding to this list of new progressive looking developments is the latest proposal for a harbour tunnel to provide the solution which is so desperately needed, to solve the traffic issues of Auckland. This proposal following hard-on-the-heels of similar proposals foretell the likelihood of a second harbour crossing actually being built in our lifetimes. Again the sustainable drivers of a growing population and growing economy in the longer term more than justify this likely multi-billion dollar investment.

Alex Swney Heart of the cityFurther adding to these future developments was the excellent piece penned by Alex Swney celebrating the completion of the 5 year refurbishment of Queen Street as the epicenter of Auckland’s retail and commercial heart. As CEO of Heart of the City and passionate Aucklander (as well as mayoral candidate) Alex has admirably championed the vibrancy and vitality of this precinct and made what was once a dark and dull “bitty” shopping and working environment into a bright and interesting metropolis. The proof to this regeneration and vibrancy as Alex says is best reflected when you:

“..talk to any realtor and they will tell you of the heightened level of interest from major international brands to secure Queen St space as it boasts pedestrian counts up to 10 times higher than any other high street in the country, underpinned by 80,000 workers, 70,000 students and 20,000 residents.”

As Alex says Auckland is growing up, it is no longer the difficult adolescent, highly self conscious; it can mix with the best in the world as a center of business and lifestyle.

In terms of the assessing the future have a look at the initiative set up by the regional council entitled “Auckland Plus” designed to articulate the business proposition for Auckland. This is the showcase of how Auckland can and does promote itself in the business of cities fighting to attract talent, capital and business to grow the future economic wealth of this city and this country – a highly competitive arena in which to compete.

The future of NZ is inextricably tied to the future of Auckland and from these developments we can start to see the other side of this current economic and real estate slump, a side that is based on sustainable drivers of economic growth which always have a flow on effect to real estate.

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Doing your bit for the environment as a home owner

Posted on: January 31st, 2008 | Filed in Architecture & Construction

– Planning to build a new home or undertake some renovations this year?

– Feel that pang of consciousness that you should be doing something for the environment?

– Get that blank stare from the local yard manager at the builders merchants when you start talking energy rating and environmental impact?

The fact is you are not alone – there is clearly a growing ground swell of opinion that is more open to recognising that in many aspects of our lives we need to be more responsible, from using energy efficient light bulbs to driving more economically and using recyclable containers.

When it comes to the home whilst the ideals may be there the reality is that often a lack of knowledge can leave you wondering if greater insulation is really cost effective and if double glazing is really beneficial, or if a heat pump can really give you a cozy warm glow on a winters night as it can cool your sweating brow in January.

I am pleased to report that there is help at hand – a new company Right House, started up late last year is endeavoring to be the guide and support for homeowners and all parties in the construction industry to better understand energy efficiency and enhanced living environment in the home from the perspective of not just this product or that product. Rather their approach and service is effectively to be able to undertake an audit of our plans and needs and to be able to offer advice and solutions of how the design of your project (full build or renovation) can be enhanced through this solution or another solution. Having provided advice in design solutions they intend to be able to provide you with products and installers to carry through the plans.

Now the interesting thing is that this is not a new government scheme to teach us to be more environmentally aware, this company Right House has been set up by an energy company – Meridian Energy. Now on the face of it that is strange, an energy company trying to help you save energy. The fact is the best people to offer advice and guide us into the future energy sources are energy companies so what at the outset seems odd has the most logic to it.

And if you were wondering about the costs of social responsibility in the form of energy efficiency, I saw an interesting article on their website which speaks to the general misapprehension that building green is way too expensive. The survey carried out by the World Council for Sustainable Development found that whilst the perception is that building green would be at a premium of 17% over conventional construction the real premium was just 5%. The same report also also exposed the alarming statistic that respondents put greenhouse gas emissions by buildings at 19% of world total, whereas in fact is it closer to 40%.

This clearly shows that we need to act in a responsible manner in our new builds, renovations and even DIY to ensure we are doing our bit for the environment.

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The challenge of building cost effective homes – could commercial construction offer some pointers?

Posted on: January 27th, 2008 | Filed in Architecture & Construction

Homes are or should be built to last. That is conventional wisdom and the debacle of the leaking home saga should if nothing else have taught designers, builders and legislators that a bit of out-of-the-box thinking would be a good idea to deal to an issue that has had a serious impact on so many home owners , and cost all rate payers a small fortune as local authorities suffer an avalanche of liability claims now and in the future!

One of the underlying issues though with the majority of home building in NZ these days is that everybody wants custom designed homes. We loathe the cookie cutter approach of the bland modern estates of the UK and the US. We want to have our distinct and unique home custom designed. However often the reality of this customisation is little more than minor remodeling of the interior as this is often the area that matters most to us buyers as we through this impart our own unique style and personality to our home. This customisation adds cost without really adding value. Whilst at the same time there is clearly a growing interest and appeal in energy conservation and enhanced living environments, and as ever we all want our cake and to eat it (at the lowest cost)!

So let’s for a moment stand back from the time-honoured practices of today’s building systems and look objectively at the building process. In doing so you would see that these demands are actually working in conflict with each other – to achieve cost effective construction with energy efficiency and custom design will always cost far more than modular design.

There is a potential solution which should be considered, and I know it is one that has been thought of before but is worth airing again to see if it has interest among the community of this website. Simply why not treat residential construction like commercial construction and using the analogy of the auto industry of the past – build a strong solid chassis and clad it in a custom body to suit the client.

This approach could provide for such developments as suspended ceilings and floors allowing for greater insulation as well as the opportunity to make future modification for future proofing plumbing, electrical as well as heating and ventilation. Creating this inner soft shell inside of a solid unitary outer structure would allow for simpler and safe remodelling of internal layout in the future – we are not talking about a lick of new paint but allowing for the complete re-arranged walls and services all safely done inside of a structurally sound shell.

Effectively this smart home could be built in 2 parts – a specialist primary contractor providing the structural outer shell either in masonry or modular concrete construction form. This construction type is both highly energy efficient with the thermal mass benefits of concrete as well as having advantageous health benefits. Let’s not forget that the majority of NZ homes do not have any fixed form of heating and this produces very poor environment for all. It is also faster to build in a modular form, therefore potentially saving cost.

After the completion of the primary shell the interior fit out specialist who can, within the ideal environment of a “closed-in” shell finish off to the exacting standards of the client or developer. This approach could bring scale benefits in the processing of the external structural shell as the primary costs will be more directly related to size. This would also allow homeowners to have homes of size built with a base level fit our which could more cost effectively upgraded in future.

What’s your opinion? Has this potential? It would be interesting to hear from any builders, developers, designers or contractors who may have looked at this idea before.

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Affordable housing – can we please learn from others!

I am not sure if I am more amazed by this proposed bill being introduced by the Housing Minister to provide for affordable housing or by the only reaction that the media could find to report – that being the Property Council’s view that the outcome of the bill will result in higher building costs as developers, forced to take a lower margin on “affordable” housing pass on this “cost” to regular buyers.

Is everyone missing the point here?

This proposal is unworkable, how would it ever be possible to demarcate a property as “affordable” – it is a house, indistinguishable from any other house. I shudder at the thought of a highly expensive bureaucratic team established to monitor these new “affordable” houses so that some “unscrupulous” owner did not try and sell such a house on the open market and land a sizable profit.IKEA BoKlok House - affordable housing for the UK

The housing market is a private sector open-market economic model driven by supply and demand – for the government to try to intervene is naive at best. Sure there are issues with affordability of homes for young people, but trying to create an artificial market for a designated house is impossible – surely we have some intelligent advisers in our government who could look to see what they can learn from others.

Overseas there are very workable models of assistance in the area of finance to help young people buy a home (of their choosing – not some select group of properties our government want us to buy).

Additionally why not let the market demand encourage developers find new ways to build more efficient modular houses – try looking at the IKEA housing model in the UK. We are not alone in this world in having social and economic problems – how do we let politicians come up with such half baked ideas!

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THUNDERBIRDS ARE otaGO

Posted on: November 13th, 2007 | Filed in Architecture & Construction, Regional News, Renting

A real estate agent in Christchurch has bought the rights to be the first kiwi in space via private rocket. To be honest, a trip to the moon is probably high on the wish list for us all. Personally, I would be happy just to travel out far enough to float around in a weightless environment; I’m not that worried about hitting a par 3 on the Ptolemy Crater Course.
Given that this may not come to pass in our lifetimes – what could be the next best thing for astronaut-hopefuls is a spaceship lifestyle on earth in Dunedin.

Experience life like Lady Penelope, Virgil and Scott with the added bonus of being right next to the beach

This futuristic flat features an open plan orbiter with one bedroom, built in furniture, small kitchen and separate bathroom with shower and toilet.

Otago spaceship It has a large pod, which is docked onto the back of it for use as an extra lounge or office – earthlings call this a conservatory. There is also a garage for parking your space cruiser and off-space-highway room for visitors to dock their sandcrawlers. Clever co-ordinates and orbit speed means this ship catches all day sun and views of Blueskin Bay (when you’re not on the dark-side of the moon).For times when you want to get back down to earth – a quick space-walk lands you on Warrington Beach.

Please note: Aliens wanting to take up the tenancy may need a reference.

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