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Case study: the Tuhoe Building – NZ’s first Living Building Challenge contender

The opening of the Tuhoe Te Uru Taumatua building.

Tuhoe Te Uru Taumatua in the Bay of Plenty is the first New Zealand project designed and constructed to Living Building Challenge specifications.

Completed in 2014, the Tuhoe building has been designed by JASMAX to be a net-zero user of energy and water, and was constructed using materials free of any Red List chemicals.

The choice of the LBC design guidelines was made in order for the project to reflect the commitment the Tuhoe people have to the wellbeing of the land, and also so the building would align to their inherent connection to it.

The building was constructed primarily of timber, 95 per cent of which was sourced from local FSC-certified forests. The design is dominated by a timber arch over the central space that includes the entrance lobby, reception area and a cafe. This central area connects two functional spaces, a tribal chamber to the north with a large Hui (meeting) space that opens out to an atea (amphitheatre) and a stage, which was constructed under a deep north-facing reveal in the exterior. The northern part of the building also contains a library, the Tuhoe Iwi taonga archive, a commercial kitchen and utilities. The southern space includes meeting rooms and open plan offices over two levels.

Te-ahuAs it is located close to a fault-line, the building’s timber structure was specifically designed for seismic resistance by structural engineers MLB. The structure acts to stabilise the building in event of an earthquake, and in the event of any natural disaster, the building will operate as Tuhoe’s civil defence centre.

The 390 photovoltaic panels that comprise the building’s solar array were at the time the largest solar power installation in New Zealand, and the system is sufficient to generate all of the complex’s energy needs. One of the requirements of the LBC is that a project demonstrate it operated at net zero for both energy and water over a cumulative period of 12 consecutive months.

Both rainwater and stormwater are being harvested, and a purpose-designed botanical wastewater system has been constructed. This gives the project a regenerative water-loop system.

The Tuhoe Building is still at least 12 months or more away from knowing if it has earned LBC certification, as it is yet to commence the full consecutive 12-month audit of water and energy use during occupancy and operation.

JASMAX associate Michelle Johansson says the initial occupancy period has seen a degree of adjustment and refinement to building systems and their operation.

LBC criteria for products a major challenge

Michelle Johansson

Michelle Johansson

Johansson was part of the design team and undertook the product specification for the project. She says meeting the LBC guidelines for products proved to be a “major research exercise”.

More than 760 products were researched to ascertain if they contained any Red List chemicals. Another criteria for LBC projects is to source products within reasonable geographical proximity, in order to reduce carbon footprints and contribute positively to local economies.

“Initially we thought, we’re so remote [from global suppliers], are we up to the play?” Johansson says.

However, of 360 architect-specified products used in the building, ultimately 73 per cent were sourced from the north island, and 80 per cent from New Zealand overall. Of the 120 site products used by the contractor, Arrow International, 70 per cent of the budget was spent within 100 kilometres of the project. There were also more than 200 services materials that again needed to meet Red List and proximity requirements.

In addition to local timber, the building used local earth formed into bricks by 150 volunteers. These are used in the interior as a wall lining to provide thermal mass and humidity control.

One of the requirements for the LBC is that one product certified under the Living Future Institute’s “Declare” product labelling scheme must be used for every 500 square metres of building. Johansson worked with a number of New Zealand manufacturers to assist them to obtain the certification, and as a result there were a number of products that could be used for the project that met the requirements, including flooring.

There were other manufacturers who were able to adjust their products to meet the basic LBC requirements to be free of Red List chemicals, and Johansson says this has translated into a permanent greening of those products.

“At the end of the Living Building Challenge, I could probably cross-credit the first year of a chemistry degree.”

She says the tracking sheets required for products under the LBC are something of a “labour of love” if there is no Declare certification for a product, as they are incredibly detailed. The need to obtain those details meant 360 separate in-depth conversations with manufacturers, starting with the sales representative in most cases, and sometimes ending up speaking at length to the company’s chemistry expert. This, she says, became a two-way learning process.

Te Uru Taumatua. Image: David Olsen

Te Uru Taumatua. Image: David Olsen

“At the end of the Living Building Challenge, I could probably cross-credit the first year of a chemistry degree,” Johansson says.

Her aim now is to see the knowledge gained from the extensive product research during the project made more broadly available, and to support New Zealand building product manufacturers and other architects to use the information to improve both products and projects.

The research has also been added to the specification resources of JASMAX, and will be used as a knowledge basis for future projects of all kinds to make them more sustainable. Contractor Arrow International has also integrated the resource of LBC and Green Star compliant products into its own standard specifications selections for all projects.

The Tuhoe Building has been recognised with a number of awards including 2014 Best Awards – Purple Pin – Nga Aho [New Zealand Design Association]; 2014 Property Council NZ Special Purpose Property Award, Best in Category; and PCNZ Green Building Property Award, Best in Category.

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