Is This NZ’s Most Sustainable Housing Development? Meet The Couple Behind Auckland’s Tui Glen

By Leanne Moore
Good Good founders Jimmi O'Toole and Charlotte White aim to create housing that puts people and the planet first. Photo / Zico O’Neill-Rutene

From architect Jimmi O’Toole and partner Charlotte White, Good Good’s Tui Glen housing development is aiming to receive New Zealand’s first 10-star Homestar v5 Rating. They speak to Leanne Moore about designing for a better future.

Situated on the edge of a native forest, 15 minutes from Auckland city,

The brainchild of dynamic husband and wife duo Jimmi O’Toole and Charlotte White, Tui Glen is a prototype for a new style of sustainable housing — at least new to New Zealand.

Jimmi and Charlotte encountered similar styles of housing while living overseas for three years from 2016. Inspired by what they’d seen in Asia and Europe, they decided to launch their own carefully considered density housing project when they returned to New Zealand. Two years in the planning, Tui Glen is a passion project they describe as their third child. The couple, who are parents to 2-year-old Herbert and newborn Clementine, want to create housing that’s good for the planet and good for people. “Protecting the planet for the future has always been important to us, but particularly now that we’ve had babies,” says Charlotte.

Tui Glen in Birkenhead consists of four standalone homes, one of which Jimmi and Charlotte will live in themselves.
Tui Glen in Birkenhead consists of four standalone homes, one of which Jimmi and Charlotte will live in themselves.

The project utilises the couple’s intersecting skill sets: Architect Jimmi is a director at Ahha Architects, with three others, and Charlotte is in marketing (currently on maternity leave from her role at Fonterra). They both grew up in the South Island closely connected to nature — Charlotte in a small town near Lindis and Jimmi in Timaru. Communing with the natural landscape is important to them and the couple want to show that housing developments don’t need to be to the detriment of the planet.

“What we’re trying to prove is that you can put ecology and wellbeing first,” says Jimmi. They believe the housing market is imbalanced and benefits only a few, and their goal is to change that. “We saw an opportunity to tip the scales and put the health of people and the planet ahead of big profits when it comes to housing,” says Charlotte.

“Obviously we’ve got to make some money, otherwise we can’t do it,” adds Jimmi. “What usually happens with a housing development is that when costs start climbing, the first things on the chopping block are wellbeing and sustainability features.” He believes in weaving these values into a project right from the start. It’s a way of working that his architecture firm has made its own. Ahha has developed a framework that measures the sustainability of each of its projects, ecologically, socially, culturally, and financially. “At Ahha we embed these principles into the concept. If these things are given weight from the start, they become integral to the design,” says Jimmi.

He could see the potential of Tui Glen’s site in Birkenhead, despite its sloping topography and the fact that one-third of the property is covered in protected native bush. “It really needed an architect with a passion who could see past the challenges of the site,” says Charlotte. “For us, the trees and the adjoining native reserve are a bonus. There’s such a sense of calm and feeling of escapism when you’re here, nestled in the canopy of the bush where there are 20m-high totara.”

Tui Glen benefits from being bordered by covenanted native bush in Auckland's Birkenhead.
Tui Glen benefits from being bordered by covenanted native bush in Auckland's Birkenhead.

One of the four standalone houses Jimmi has designed for the Tui Glen development will be their family home. “We are so passionate about it that we will be living there as well,” says Charlotte. A derelict home now on the site will be demolished to make way for the development, due to be completed at the end of 2025.

Even though the houses will be new, sleek and modern, the aim is for them to have a place in that landscape that feels harmonious, not dominant. “There is a reasonable amount of density, but you don’t need to squeeze as many houses as possible on to the site to make a profit,” says Jimmi. “We love Auckland and want to see density done well,” adds Charlotte.

The couple hope Tui Glen will set a new benchmark by becoming the first residential development to receive a 10-Star Homestar v5 Rating from the New Zealand Green Building Council. A 10 Homestar Rating indicates a world-leading sustainable home. The Homestar design rating will be finalised towards the end of this year, and Jimmi, who is himself a Homestar Assessor, is confident of achieving this goal.

The three-bedroom homes will have split-level floor plans with outdoor courtyards and light-filled, open-plan kitchen and dining areas with sunken lounges offering native bush views. Because of all the sustainable design features, the houses are also predicted to have zero yearly operating costs — and even put about $250 back into the pockets of residents each year.

“We’ve thermally modelled and calculated that the water harvesting and recycling, smart recycling, composting and waste management initiatives, as well as the excess solar power generated, has the potential to give residents back about $250 per year,” says Jimmi. The same-sized house built to NZ Building Code minimums costs about $5200 a year to operate. Including these features has an upfront cost, he says, but Ahha’s research shows that long-term, the savings achieved should outstrip those costs.

Windows in the light-filled, sunken lounge frame the bush view outside.
Windows in the light-filled, sunken lounge frame the bush view outside.

With regenerative principles at the forefront of the development, Tui Glen is designed to tread lightly on the ecology it inhabits and to continue to have a positive impact, long after the last nail goes in. This involves regenerating native bush around the houses, choosing materials that have carbon sequestering properties, and using recycled brick. Flooring will be cork, marmoleum (derived from cocoa husks) and 100 per cent wool carpets.

Using the sun’s energy to heat the houses naturally during winter and limit the sun during summer, alongside being highly insulated with efficient appliances, rainwater harvesting, greywater recycling and solar panels, the houses have been thoughtfully crafted to be largely self-sufficient. The four homes have a large shared area dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of the protected native bush, as well as edible garden areas, composting, and EV vehicle charging.

By prioritising sustainability, people-centric design, social connectivity and wellbeing over big profits, Good Good wants to transform lives, communities, and - in its own small way - the world. The couple are part of a new wave of developers bringing a range of diverse housing options to New Zealand. Others that have come on stream in recent times are build-to-rent schemes, owner-occupied collective housing and affordable housing projects made possible through community land trusts.

“What we’re trying to prove is that you can put ecology and wellbeing first,” says Jimmi.
“What we’re trying to prove is that you can put ecology and wellbeing first,” says Jimmi.

“When we were living in Amsterdam I worked on an architect-designed development of 30 houses on barges. These floating neighbourhoods have a strong community connection with community amenities. We’re looking to create something like that here,” says Jimmi. “We want to build a micro-community at Tui Glen, so we have planned the buildings to encourage the human need for social connection with the public spaces while respecting privacy through the design of the homes,” he says.

Tui Glen is a catalyst project that will showcase what Good Good can do. “This is very meaningful work to us, that is propelling us forward. We are starting small because we want to prove that we can do it on that scale. If we can achieve our goals with standalone housing, then the plan is to move on to bigger-scale developments, either apartments or terraced housing. This will give us better economies of scale, and this is potentially where it becomes more fruitful financially for residents, with more potential for centralised services such as rainwater harvesting and shared community facilities,” says Jimmi.

“Everyone has responsibility for the planet. At Good Good, we’re looking at how to create environments where people have a sense of belonging, a sense of kaitiaki [guardianship over nature]. We are trying to leave the planet a little bit better than it was the day before. That was important to us before we had children and, now that we are parents and thinking in an inter-generational context, it’s more important than ever.”

A rendering of Tui Glen's meticulously tiled bathroom.
A rendering of Tui Glen's meticulously tiled bathroom.

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