Smart research can help tackle Auckland's housing woes, Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce says.

The Government has launched the last of its 11 wide-ranging National Science Challenges with a new effort aimed at building better homes, towns and cities.

The decade-long programme, receiving nearly $50 million in Government funding, will investigate how cutting-edge innovation and technology can be better applied to building.

It would bring together engineers, scientists and social researchers from a mix of institutes to explore smarter design options for buildings and infrastructure.


This included improving energy and water use, drawing on crowd-sourced data about people to better inform what was built for and around them, and taking a fresh look at where and how streets, public spaces, urban blocks and different housing types were used.

"It will look at how our built environment can be better designed to reflect the impact of modern technologies on how we live, and to lift the quality of life of New Zealanders," said Mr Joyce, who today launched the initiative at Ngati Whatua's new Kainga Tuatahi communal housing scheme in Orakei.

New Zealand was experiencing near-record levels of construction -- the 2379 new homes consented in February was the highest figure for that month in over a decade -- and it was important to have the research community ahead of the curve, he said.

The challenge was "very relevant" for Auckland, where a lack of supply and other factors had pushed median house prices to $820,000.

"What we have in Auckland is the challenge of land use and, in particular, supply. Science has role to play in terms of more efficient land use forms and how can we structure ourselves as a city better, now but also in the future."

Unlike in the big housing booms of the 1950s and 1960s, there were now a greater variety of homes being built.

Current urban planning also needed to factor in large shifts and trends, such as more people choosing to work remotely from their homes or communities, Mr Joyce said.

Professor Richard Bedford, chair of the group that will oversee the effort, said the traditional Kiwi dream of the three-bedroom house on a quarter-acre section was no longer what everyone wanted, with apartments and small lock-and-leave homes becoming more popular.

As our population grew and its composition changed, he said, today's approaches and practices were not delivering what was required.

"We have a dated -- and in many places -- poorly performing, housing stock," he said.

"Our research will contribute to solutions that ensure we can retrofit, upgrade and improve the liveability of what is already in place."

Solutions would particularly address design, build and regulatory improvements, as well as promoting new ways of thinking within communities.

"We need to get beyond the 'not in my back yard', knee-jerk response to changes such as increased housing density," Professor Bedford said.

"Part of the challenge mandate is to ensure people have choices -- one size does not fit all. "

The programme is being led by the Building Research Association of New Zealand and involves researchers from more than a dozen other institutes, including all eight universities.

Our National Science Challenges

*A $47 millon effort to improve our homes, towns and cities is the last of the Government's 11 National Science Challenges to be launched.

*The challenges are aimed at a range of big issues facing Kiwis and bring together hundreds of researchers to tackle them.

*Other efforts focus on the environment, disaster resilience, tech innovation, nutritional research, ageing and health issues.