Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology has received $700,000 in National Science Challenge funding to research new designs for sustainable and affordable homes and identify how these contribute to health and wellbeing for Maori.
The research project - Toitu te Kainga, Toitu te Ora, Toitu te Tangata (Sustainable Homes, Healthy People) - was launched today at Te Whaiti's Murumurunga Marae in the Eastern Bay of Plenty, where Te Matekuare Whanau Trust landowners are in the process of developing a papakainga, or housing settlement.
Initial concept designs for the papakainga were revealed today.
Awarded as part of the Building Better Homes, Towns and Cities National Science Challenge, the funding was the largest ever received by Toi Ohomai for a research project. The institute has partnered with scientists from Unitec Institute of Technology and Scion, and Auckland offsite design and manufacturing company Tall Wood, which was designing the sustainable homes for the papakainga.
The research would investigate optimal designs and the most effective materials with which to build sustainable, affordable housing for the papakainga, as well as examine the health benefits resulting from families living in healthier homes.
It emphasised the true costs of affordability, which included both the capital costs of construction, and the long-term operating costs of living in a house over many years.
Preliminary work has already begun.
The research would be directed by a committee of kaumatua whose role was to provide oversight of issues specific to Maori.
Leading up to today's launch Toi Ohomai researcher Dr Ian McLean said the research had the potential to contribute to housing development throughout the country and elsewhere.
"It will address the issues of tikanga, affordability, sustainable design, wellbeing and living environments that we believe should be central to the discussion around affordable housing. This is a fantastic initiative for social housing and extremely topical for New Zealand.
"We will test various housing designs and link our research to outcomes for people, with the primary aims of protecting cultural values, reducing living costs and improving wellbeing," he said.
Te Whaiti, near Murupara, is known for its hot, dry summers and bitingly cold winters and it was thought likely that damp, cold conditions, use of wood fires, and substandard housing had led to significant ill health among the people who lived there.
Rates of asthma and other respiratory illnesses in the small community are among the highest in New Zealand.
Trust chairwoman Hinerangi Goodman said Matekuare needed to get back to their land to build their papakainga, and also needed the buildings to be genuinely affordable and offer healthy living environments.
"This project means everything to the Matekuare whanau because the land was left for us by our tipuna specifically for building our papakainga. We are the land, the land is us, and we want to develop that land so that it sustains our people.
"Toi Ohomai has been the champion for the Matekuare Whanau Trust in bringing us closer to realising our dream. They have brought in the experts who will be working on this project. The whole whānau is on board and we are all very excited to have got to this point," ahe said.
Toi Ohomai chief executive Leon Fourie said the research project offered an excellent opportunity to partner with iwi and work together in the community.
"We welcome the chance to work closely with iwi on finding solutions that benefit the communities in our rohe.
"This is a great example of making purposeful connections with iwi, researchers and other education providers and collaborating on an innovative project that has regional reach and significant impact," Fourie said.
The project also meant local students could get involved with the health research and design of the homes.
Toi Ohomai lead health researcher Denise Riini said as a learning institute that was a priority for them and it was a great opportunity for Toi Ohomai to work with the whanau to build exactly what worked for them.
Her team of researchers and nursing students would seek to find out baseline information about the health and wellbeing of research participants from 20 different households.
"We will be discussing the health aspirations with each participant and looking at whether there is a connection between respiratory health and living conditions.
"Humidity, temperature and air quality all have an impact on health and wellbeing. We want to find out the extent of that impact and understand how the physical environment can also affect how often individuals need to access health services, or whether people can continue to be cared for in their own home if they are unwell," Riini said.
"It's really important that homes are built with these things in mind and that is what the building design is looking to do."
Testing and monitoring of physical environments in homes within the region would begin early next year.
Data probes would be installed in the homes to monitor indoor climatic conditions and spirometry testing of the research participants would be carried to assess lung function.
Mould swabs and other biological samples will also be collected regularly inside the houses to investigate the links between indoor climatic conditions, micro-organisms and occupants' respiratory health. To provide a comparative measure from an array of living environments and climates, data would also be collected from homes in Auckland and Rotorua.
As the new papakainga homes are built, similar testing would be undertaken and differences in the physical environments would be analysed against the potential improvements in the health and wellbeing of whanau.
Tall Wood director Daiman Otto was focused on creating a simple, sustainable and affordable building solution for the papakainga, which incorporated tikanga and whanau aspirations for community renewal.
"The offsite-manufactured self-build design will include pre-installed insulation and use engineered timber products, which are making a "massive change" in the thinking around affordable housing," he said.
"It's a really exciting project and will give us a good benchmark of how these products perform. Currently there are few solutions around affordable housing in New Zealand; my role is to create solutions to address housing problems.
"At Te Whaiti we're working with the Matekuare whanau to design functional homes which are optimised for energy efficiency. They're not tiny homes, but highly optimised spaces where every aspect of the home needs to do more than one thing."
And when linked to green design, such as water harvesting and recycling, solar energy, and waste minimisation, the houses become genuinely sustainable said Dr McLean.
Hinerangi Goodman said the research would benefit Maori throughout the motu.
"That's what we're excited about. We can see the future where we couldn't before, and I'm very heartened for our whanau because we've missed out on several generations with people dying young from respiratory illnesses.
"I don't know anywhere else where homes are built around data that shows and proves why our whanau continue to suffer these illnesses. So that to me is the silver lining in the whole thing - it's about building healthy homes, and healthy homes mean healthy and happy whanau."
Building Better Homes, Towns and Cities is one of 11 National Science Challenges which aimed to invest in research to tackle New Zealand's biggest science-based challenges.
Hosted by BRANZ, it was launched last year with the vision of "creating built environments that build communities".