Architecture & design: Te Wharehou o Tuhoe is the soon-to-be-built $15 million headquarters for Tuhoe, at Taneatua, near Whakatane. It will strive to meet the stringent measures of the Living Building Challenge (LBC) - a green building code with wider ecological and social aims.
The building will house Tuhoe offices, while the remaining 70% of the complex is being built for public enjoyment and will include organic gardens to supply the cafeteria, an exhibition space for artists, taonga and archival storage, a library and community rooms. The amphitheatre-styled entranceway will also act as a venue for hui and the biennial Tuhoe celebration. Being just one kilometre away from a fault line, Te Wharehou also has a unique earthquake-proof, timber structure.
The development and building of Te Wharehou has been, what Tuhoe chairperson Tamati Kruger calls, "a three-way conversation" between the tribe, architectural firm Jasmax (the project is headed by the legendary Ivan Mercep) and building company Arrow International. Tuhoe were adamant that the building be characterised by their commitment to sustainability so Jasmax suggested the LBC.
Te Wharehou breaks all building precedents in this country. It hosts an awe-inspiring list of environmentally-effective measures that reads like a green building enthusiast's dream.
The north-facing building uses a myriad of insulation measures to control temperature. It is sealed during the night to ensure that heat captured in the concrete floor is retained. Natural ventilation is used throughout except in the archival storage space where air conditioning is essential.
The building, which strives to achieve net zero energy, waste and water, captures its own water for drinking and for use in the bathrooms and fire sprinklers. Sewage from the minimal-flush toilets will be dealt with onsite, funnelled through a natural wetland.
Energy from the 240 solar panels covering the entire roof will generate power, selling excess to the grid. "The payback period is about 8 to 10 years for solar," says Mercep. "Once you've done that you are running it for free in a sense." Energy-efficient appliances will take precedence in the new kitchen.
As part of the Challenge, strict attention is paid to what materials are utilised. "The processing and production of all material in the building has to prove it has not used toxins, poisons and materials produced in an unsustainable way," says Kruger. "Some of these products are not good for you anyway... And yet these things are not considered in the building code."
Discovering suitable products has been surprisingly hard for a country labelled '100% Pure,' says Kruger. Many businesses, however, have been keen to modify their processes to make them more suitable to the LBC.
Ngai Tuhoe has always been inextricably linked with Te Urewera National Park. The building reflects this through the use of fallen trees from the forest in Te Wharehou. The process from forest to building floor sees Tuhoe forest scouts and helicopter spotters hunting for fallen logs. Trunks are tagged and taken to certified mills and eventually brought on site.
As a part of the building process, Tuhoe are keen to involve iwi members and locals where possible to create opportunities for employment and knowledge acquisition. They will host workshops about solar power and offer chances to get involved with the creation of earth bricks which will be used in Te Wharehou, made of clay from different parts of Tuhoe country.
The hefty price tag of Te Wharehou has been somewhat controversial, says Kruger, but the building highlights Tuhoe's commitment to nature; "We are pushing something that is extremely hard at the moment, but our goal is that people, starting with the Tuhoe people, see that as their responsibility. Our goal is to normalise it."
Living Building Challenge
The Living Building Challenge (LBC) identifies 20 targets in seven performance areas, or 'petals': site, water, energy, health, materials, equity and beauty.
Targets also stipulate that buildings must educate, motivate people to make change, offer access to visitors of all ages, socioeconomic classes and backgrounds and contain design features which inspire human delight.
Te Wharehou o Tuhoe will be the first Living Building in Aotearoa.