Friday, April 26, 2013

Cluster Housing Saves Resources, Money, and Reduces Impacts on the Land

Two living spaces share one wall to conserve resources and energy. 

I was flattered to have been identified recently in the Chronicle (20-04-13) as an “exponent.” I was only left to wonder, am I ‘squared’ or ‘cubed’? My suspicion is the latter, as a Roman numeral 3 – III – sometimes follows my name of official documents. Although it would be rather cool to change it from Lebo III to Lebo3.

The article in question – Plan considers papakainga settlements on Maori land – reported on a Maori Land Court meeting from March 18, and quoted extensively WDC Principal Planner Jonathan Barrett. I remember meeting Jonathan about a year ago, and being impressed by his open-mindedness and willingness to work with groups to rethink some aspects of planning that would serve people and the planet better than a grid-type suburban landscape.

I had been invited to the meeting in question at the last minute, and was not completely sure about the agenda or even who would attend. I was also unprepared to be the centre of attention, not that I minded because the topic was one easily adapted to a discussion on eco-design. And once you get me going on that…

To provide some background, I had been invited to take a look at a piece of land at Kaiwhaiki Pa that had a decades-old development plan but some serious seasonal drainage issues. The existing plan indicated a grid-type layout of homes across the property, including the low areas. From what I recall, there was also a decade-old quote for a drainage project that would cost around half a million dollars.

From my perspective, this was a case of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Sure, it could be done, but at what cost? Engineers will tell you, “We can do anything with enough money.”

But a suburban-style development on that piece of land would be unnecessarily expensive, unnecessarily destructive to the environment, and, from my scant knowledge of traditional Maori settlements, culturally inappropriate. The ‘burbs are a Pakeha invention. Maori lived in villages.

From my perspective, the existing plan represented a lose-lose-lose situation. This is the opposite of the way I think and design, so naturally I had some ideas to put on the table based on my philosophy of eco-design, which is holistic, cooperative and adaptive.

From a holistic perspective, the drainage problem could be dealt to in a number of ways. First by looking up the watershed and determining in what ways biology (trees and shrubs) could be used to decrease runoff. Next, a number of ‘gentle’ erosion control methods could be used on the property to slow the flow of water by dissipating its energy. Finally, if part of the land wants to flood seasonally, Let It!

Rough sketch of Kaiwhaiki land. 

By clustering the homes into a village setting on the highest part of the section, hundreds of thousands of dollars could be saved on massive drainage works. At the same time, cluster housing reduces the costs of roading, water and sewage pipes, power lines, and even building materials. When two homes share one wall, each family need only pay for three and a half walls instead of four. At the same time, their heating costs will be reduced because each home would have three external walls instead of four. In other words, the two homes warm each other with an awhi, hug.

Two accommodations at Solscape Eco-Retreat share one wall. 

The design strategy is cooperative at every level. Not only does it involve the pa trust working with WDC, but also it involves humanity working with nature instead of against it. This is the heart of eco-design.

And finally, the design strategy is adaptive, because each group mentioned in the article – Kaiwhaiki, Marangai, and Putiki – will have different wants and needs, and each piece of land will have its unique character that must be honoured. Additionally, such developments in our District could become the new Best Practice for papakainga throughout Aotearoa, and iwi from across the land would visit to learn how they could adapt such an approach for themselves. Now that is exponential!

Peace, Estwing

1 comment:

  1. I've often wondered what it would be like to open up all our back yards here. There is the remains of a natural watercourse and quite a few well established trees. Boundaries are such hard things. Isolating.

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