Category Archives: 10m2

Earth Systems

Japan is fascinating. The Japanese are so respectful of everything -work, other people, the natural world. And they have so many rituals – for me it seems to be a way to relax. Together it makes for a human society that is synchronized with the natural environment. Their technology is very efficient and they husband their natural environment so as it produces so many useful things from urban land, rural land, and even the forests. Japan is about 130% the size of New Zealand. And they are worried that they only produce food for about 40% of their population. That is 48 million people!


In early February I visited Tokyo and Kyoto. Tokyo is the megalopolis – it has huge apartment buildings that extend as far as I could see from the 18th floor of my hostel. Kyoto on the other hand is largely 2 and 3 story buildings interspersed with many decorative gardens, temples, and productive fields.

I presented at the “Earth Systems Governance Conference Tokyo 2013” at the United Nations University. Yes I fell off my chair when I was accepted to speak at this conference!!

The conference is trying to raise the point that all of humanity is a system “governed” by written and unwritten, or formal and informal, rules and norms.

The conference did attract many presenters on top-down international relations and nuclear energy policy, however the project is also about “bottom up”, grassroots changes in our human-made earth system.

It was a fascinating conference – I was astonished that the people that consider big global issues find what we are doing in Christchurch interesting.

Presently, in New Zealand, the current set of unwritten rules and norms say: “houses are very expensive; spending 5 times your annual income on your house is the best way to save for the future; building a house is best left to the experts; group action is ineffective; excellence and high performance is the sole realm of the highly trained professional; making positive change in your life is profoundly difficult and best left to the experts.”

I presented on the emerging network of groups in Christchurch that are showing other possibilities and suggesting new norms.  These groups are creating new possibilities and presenting new ideas that will likely lead to a more sustainable built environment.

One key idea is that we use volunteers and skilled people collaborating together. Another is that you don’t need to be a highly trained person to start something.

There is an informal network of groups in Christchurch that have responded to the earthquake are rewriting the informal rules, and creating new norms. These groups include Greening the Rubble – [gardens can be anywhere!], Gapfiller – [life is a stage!], CPIT – [we are learning by doing!], Live in Vacant Spaces [there are other ways to access land!], The Concert [volunteers are effective, and it is very fun!], Rekindle [we don’t have to throw those building materials away!], White Elephant [young people create and do!], Renew Brighton [a community can remake itself] Maybe one day the formal rules could change, in response.

Written rules also have an impact that was recently documented by Stu Donovan on

The primary impact of local government regulations is not through the constraints they place on land supply (i.e. urban containment), but actually through the barriers they create to the development of more compact and affordable housing. Here’s some examples of regulations pursued by local governments in New Zealand that seem likely to restrict the supply of affordable housing:

  1. Minimum lot sizes – i.e. “all ye who have less money shall be forced to purchase land you don’t want.
  2. Minimum apartment sizes – i.e. “all ye who have less money shall be forced to purchase living space you don’t want.
  3. Minimum parking requirements – i.e. “all ye who have less money shall be forced to pay for vehicles you don’t own”.
  4. Maximum height limits – i.e. “all ye who chose to live like rats are consigned to perish like rats – on the street.
  5. Heritage protections – i.e. “all ye who don’t have the money to renovate a villa shall live elsewhere.

The Earth Systems Science Plan defines the five analytical problems of governance. The five A’s, for short: Agency – to what degree groups and individuals feel like they can act to create positive change. Allocation and Access – how individuals and groups are allocated or access needed resources like land, housing, food. Accountability – projects are legitimated – how do we know about, participate in the decision making around projects that affect or interest us? Adaptiveness – how do we change or reorganize in response to needs? And finally, Architecture – what structure of organization allows for good outcomes in the other areas? For example, what type of command and control, what processes or procedures, or what norms?

In Christchurch we have a loose network of groups that come together for various projects as suits each group. Each group thus retains its own agency – the ability to act. There are no formal contracts between groups that restrict or prohibit action.  Each group has a few energetic coordinators who harness the capacity of skilled professionals and keen volunteers/apprentices. No explicit coordination between groups is needed. Each group’s actions are coordinated by skilled and resourceful coordinators who keep the momentum going.

Projects are “legitimated” when people volunteer to do them. Good projects are supported by volunteers. Employees do what their bosses say, but volunteers only work on things they believe in.  More volunteers equals more legitimacy equals more impact. It is unlikely that an unpopular project will have a big impact, while popular projects will grow and grow.

And It seems that from this architecture of a loose affiliation of interacting groups, supported by a mix of volunteers and professionals, emerges a system that can support a more sustainable built environment.  In other words it supports supports multiple groups to have agency, to have legitimacy, and to demonstrate other ways of allocation and access to resources.

Will this hodge-podge of groups lead to a more sustainable built environment? This is still to be discovered. I had an intuition that this was the case, and the conference introduced me to the academic literature further supports this case:  That small, self-governing systems of local groups do effectively and fairly allocate limited resources. See, for example, the work of natural resource economist Elinor Ostrom.

We are prototyping possibilities for the future today!

New Brighton Pop-Up Precinct

The New Brighton Pop-Up precinct has gotten off to a great start!  Over 70 people from New Brighton were supported by 30 people that SHAC brought from around New Zealand.  This included students and staff members from Unitec, CPIT, the Otago Polytechnic, and volunteers from The Concert.


More at Facebook: Renew Brighton, SHAC page or SHAC group

The Reading Room – Lauren

The East Wave – Olivia

The Akordian Centre – Aaron McMillan

Show Modular Flexibility – Susan Preston

Show Live+Work=Dwell – Kate Anderson

DECO Shelter – Catherine Smith

Canvas Community Centre – Courtney


Wishing Wall – BAGUIS01

Why See – Bell, Atanasov, Singh

Unity – singh, samson, delcarpio, delacruz

TheTransforming Expo Centre – Hayley Shaw

The Need – Kaite Byrnes & Peta smith

The Amp – Remix – Nacario, Demegillo, Afon, Jung

Tensegrity – Eric&Sam

Temporary Structure – BRIAR.S DANIELLE.P

Stagedome – JAP – Jody, Aseel, Paloma

Scala – Jack, Juan, Luiz

Rope Building – jinao, sha, shivneel, khalid

Public Pod – Tamsin, Nimesh and Tom

Portable Music Hub – Amanda Delahunt

Outdoor Dance – Brita Gabbie Natasha

Open Your Mind – Misfits – Turab,Tom,Taylor

Show Nomadic Design – Jordan Robinson

Look Up! – ChloeC,SamR,Lana

lawson peacokbeaton – art project

Information Station – Rosa Thomas

ConcertAndMore – Jas_Sam_Joanna_Walter

Compact Bach – Rozy Kirk

10Studio – Jakob McDermott

Living large with 10m2 buildings

Two 10 square metre buildings built rather close together.  Eaves and awnings nearly connect the two buildings.

SHAC 10 sq metre Challenge Judging Criteria

How are we going to live well, with purpose, and with less reliance on resources like materials and energy?

The SHAC Challenge is a way to learn about the building code, experiment with buildings, and to develop prototypes for our new built environment.  We designers, engineers, architects, builders, and others will be creating our new built environment for the rest of our lives.  Lets have fun with this:  Enter the SHAC 10m2 Challenge! – due 20 August 2012.  [entry details…]

For example, energy is an important resource, and in New Zealand we presently use about 40% of our total personal energy for transport, 20% in the home and to produce our food, and 40% to produce the stuff we buy ( Scadden, p12 ). [Burning coal and oil in far-away, overseas factories].

Our new built environment will reduce our need for resources like water and energy by a number of methods.  Our judges will consider entries according to these points, from technical improvements to projects that inspire creativity and support people so that they have understanding, energy, and the will to create.  SHAC judges will take a wholistic approach in judging.

Judging Criteria

1) responding to a need

2) improving our knowledge, technical ability, and desire for durable, repairable stuff [from housing to cell phones], so that over time we have much less need to buy so much of it.  Teaching young people how to design, build, and maintain buildings and things is a great start!

3) stimulating and developing knowledge, awareness, and use of small quantities of valuable renewable electricty.

4) reducing the need for, and facilitating alternatives to private automotive travel

5) reducing the need for, and facilitating alternatives to regular business travel

6) Facilitating groups of people to get together to share ideas and create.

7) Stimulating the imagination and supporting groups of people to make progress on creating  an environmentally sound and socially just society.

8) Exhibiting a quality and care of construction that inspires others to support, promote  similar projects, and adapt and reuse your designs in future work.

GapFiller 10m2 SHAC

The Gap Filler temporary office
In December 2011, a team of young people got together with a vision to build an office for Gap Filler using materials saved from demolition sites around Christchurch. The team developed the design over the summer and with many talented volunteers built the office in a week in January!

The design and build was organised by SHAC in association with the Regeneration and White Elephant charitable trusts. Many skilled and unskilled volunteers helped out – builders, architects, engineers, young people and the occasional passer-by.

All of the building materials are reused, with the exception of building paper, insulation, chicken wire, fixings, clear plastic cladding and 4 sheets of thin treated plywood.

The office has an internal floor area of less than 10 square meters. Our talented designers and builders believe that the office complies with the building code, and is warm, stable, resistant to moisture, durable, and supports fire safety.

This office is experimenting with new building techniques. The east and southern wall structure are made from reused shipping pallets, a technology developed by Mark Fielding of Solabode Ltd in Nelson. The southern wall is clad with reused printing plates kindly donated by the Christchurch Press.

This tiny office will stay here for approximately 3 – 6 months. Power will come initially from neighbours and then, from solar power. Wireless internet access will come from a kind neighbour. Once we leave this site, the office will be relocated on a truck to another vacant site in Christchurch. The internal floor area is less than 10m2 and did not require a building consent.

We are using this land with the generous support of Ascot TV, who lost their building on this site in the earthquakes. They are now located at 300 Colombo Street, up the road.

What’s SHAC?
The Sustainable Habitat Challenge is a network of people designing and building more sustainable buildings and neighbourhoods. SHAC projects are educational in nature, teaching those involved new skills. The buildings they create are designed with non-profit group or charity in mind; in this case, Gap Filler. Gap Filler has been gifted this movable building which will be used as an office..

SHAC – affordable, delightful housing, micro architecture, simple building, and more… SHAC is about living well with less reliance on resources, and finding our purpose. See for more info.

What’s Gap Filler?
Gap Filler is a creative urban regeneration initiative started in response to the September 4, 2010 Canterbury earthquake, and revised and expanded in light of the more destructive February 22, 2011 quake. It is now administered by the Gap Filler Charitable Trust. See for more info.

Gap Filler aims to temporarily activate vacant sites created by the quakes within Christchurch with creative projects for community benefit, to make for a more interesting, dynamic and vibrant city. Gap Filler has done a number of projects to date around Christchurch such as a book exchange, painted pianos, a community space and petanque pitch in Lyttelton, and outdoor events such as cinema and live music. Two projects have been completed in Sydenham recently, too – the outdoor chess set next to Honey Pot Café and Wayne Youle’s shadow board mural (working with Christchurch Art Gallery).

THANK YOU to: the landowners – ASCOT TV (especially Chris), Graham at ECO Framing, Barry Dowrick, CPIT and the Otago Polytechnic for the loan of many tools and Mark Fielding of Solabode Ltd in Nelson for the 5 prefab pallet walls and The Christchurch Press for the metal printing plates.

we thank you!

tim, clayton, barnaby, barry, lani, florian, ben, emma, ella, alice, amber, rachel, regan, felicity, alan, nick, seth, naomi, jules, the Australian group of young volunteers, ants, ann, nev, bob, dave, tarn, barry, darcy, Andrew, kyle, nastassja, Shayne, and kerry

Southern Demolition, Terra Lana Insulation, The Pumphouse [See Photo below], The Window Marketplace, Addington Demolition, Christchurch Demolition and Salvage, Clyne and Benny, Skelly Holdings, Dulux, Steel and Tube, White Elephant Trust and F3 Design, Solabode Ltd, Firth, and PSP

Wood Cutters’ Paradise

For more information, contact