Hero House

While the Bay of Plenty recently I got the opportunity to indulge my interest in sustainable design with a visit Te Uru Taumatua, the new Tuhoe headquarters in Taneatua.

I was fortunate in that both Tamati Kruger the chair of the Tuhoe Trust, and Kirsten Luke, its CEO, were on hand. They gave me an enlightening and inspiring tour of their pride and joy.


Tuhoe wanted strong connection to Te Uruwera so the majority of the labour and materials were sourced within a 100km radius of the site. Structural steel was not used at all. ‘It doesn’t have a smell,’ explained Kirsten. Concrete required for earthquake protection is all covered by timber.


Over 300 photovoltaic panels are installed with Meridian Energy buying back surplus power.


Grey water is used in toilets, the balance of stormwater is dealt with by a soakage pond. Plant filtration by wetland, deals with soil waste all except for grease solid separated outside the kitchen.

I am very interested in the ‘downstream‘ residential applications of these systems the purchase and installation costs of which are reducing through their increased use. I learnt a lot more about the practicalities of the various eco systems from my visit to Te Uru Taumatua.

Our office explored these energy management and waste disposal systems in detail in our ‘Breathe housing’ project in Christchurch. It was marvellous to see them installed and functioning so efficiently in this educational and pioneering building.


When I visited writer Lloyd Jones off-the-grid house in the Wairarapa, he observed that a building that starts whirring and clicking when the rising sun hits the photovoltaics, becomes organic and truly alive. Not just a dead object. The same can be said for Te Uru Taumatua.

The increasing stream of curious visitors to Te Uru Taumatua has led to a café has been established. Consistent with the 100km philosophy, there is no kai-moana on the menu (Tuhoe is landlocked) but plenty of venison and local produce.

DSC_0518We need to acknowledge the contribution of architect Ivan Mercep who unfortunately succumbed to cancer just before the opening. Ivan’s passion for principled design was well known and with his synergy with the strong client principles, excellent project management by Jeff Vivian of Arrow, this exemplary and very educationally rich Living Building has been created.

Unlike sports heroes, whose retirement comes all too early because of other younger bodies overtaking them, architects being brain rather than brawn driven, often go on to do their best works in later years.  Just look for instance at Wright, Le Corbusier and Gehry.

The synergy between Tuhoe’s respect for their place and the collaboration they encouraged with all the right people and materials, gives us hope that we may well be able to save the planet after all.