Sustainable Habitat Construction

Building a Better Way


SHAC09 Ecocrib

From cladding to furniture and light fittings – product designers and builders collaborate to design an efficient, healthy bach-style home. [Designs Only]

Location: Auckland
Members: 4

The Eco-crib collaboration begins!

Vision for More Sustainable Housing

Protecting our environment is of major importance to New Zealand and the rest of the world. To show our support for more sustainable building and living solutions, Unitec students will be working together to design and build a sustainable house on Unitec’s Mt Albert campus, for entry in the 2009 Sustainable Habitat Challenge (SHAC 09).

Team Ecocrib's ideas for more sustainable living will be unveiled on the 9th of November 2009 at the CUMULUS AOTEAROA conference. Delegates will come from many countries of the world to see advanced designs.

Our team includes student quantity surveyors, landscape designers, construction managers, architects, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, gasfitters and drainlayers. Business, public relations and media studies students will also be involved in the project.

• Reduce the use of non-renewable
energy consumption
• Have zero use of mains water supply
• Provide alternative waste disposal
• Use New Zealand’s sustainable building
• Provide a healthy living environment
with a constant indoor temperature and
moisture control
• Complete the house ready for judging by
October 2009.

The Unitec sustainable house project (ECOCRIB) was created to improve the internal environment quality of an existing student built house. The insulation was increased to twice the minimum value set by compliance documents for achieving building code requirements. This is because timber frame houses react too quickly to changes in the external environment. The ventilation system was added for air changes and to make use of hot air in the roof cavity.

The original idea was to build the house on site at Unitec, not connected to the national grid or any council water supply and adjoining an organic garden established 10 years before. It was to be part of an ecology/sustainability centre for Unitec. A change to the structure of Unitec and the current economic turmoil has resulted in the house not being built. The all up budget of $235,000 (including alternative energy systems and landscaping) became a victim of the economic sustainability of Unitec. ‘If the building can be modelled is it necessary to build it?’

A key outcome for the Ecocrib is achieving a HERS rating for the building of 7.5 stars. This confirms it as a low energy home and well above 2008 minimum building code standards. The rating was done on the plans as submitted to council and for the house alone. No energy systems were shown on the plan.

To coincide with the designing and building of the Ecocrib, students from the Bachelor of Product Design were set the task to research into interior and exterior furniture design, fencing and screening design, kitchen design and bathroom design. They were then asked to design a product or product system that would either: reduce the amount of energy, water or materials used in production, and/or; contribute less waste into waste streams from manufacture, use or disposal, and/or; improve the indoor or outdoor environment, offer value for money and/or support a sustainable community. Senior Lecturer in Design Roger Bateman believes that:

“one of the biggest challenge the product design profession faces is to produce sustainable products. Actually designing sustainable products shouldn’t be a choice it should be a requirement. Designers need to consider whether the materials they are using are damaging to the planet or sustainable,”

Bateman believe designers also need to understand life cycle analysis and how this can assist when designing products. ‘The SHaC09 challenge has acted as an excellent catalyst for product designers to think deeply about their work and the impact their design decisions can have on the eco-sustainability of their products’ he says.

Find more photos like this on Sustainable Habitat Challenge

Why is it more sustainable?

A number of Product Design students focused on water reduction during product use and this was manifest in the design of tapware and baths. Kyle Backhouse Smith designed a bath that not only reduced the amount of water required to have a ‘luxurious’ bathing experience but he also ensure that the bath shell was insulated to keep the water hotter for longer.

Damon Stenhouse focused on designing a centre for the kitchen that would support the family. He designed a central ‘island’ that is a food preparation surface, a dining surface and worktable for kids and parents to share. His design uses forestry certified timbers combined with metals that do not require paint finishes.

For the exterior of the Ecocrib John Tilling designed a set of planters that can clip onto the gutter downpipe and create a dramatic hanging garden that obscures this often un-sightly plastic component. The product designers worked on concepts from storage to water harvesting products to lighting to furniture that can inhabit the areas in a room that are often wasted.

The HERS rating for this house confirms that it would need little energy to reach world health organization standards. The use of warm air from the roof cavity was part of the plans but the use of cool air from the south side of the house to cool it in summer is an unknown quantity. The Hebel aerated concrete panel system achieved Department of Building and Housing accreditation during this project proving it fit for purpose and costing marginally more than conventional brick veneer. This type of material has less embodied energy in manufacture and greater insulation values. An advantage with the extra insulation is less thermal gain in summer thereby reducing the need for inverter heat pumps, air conditioning and energy spikes in summer.

A black water system using worms and grey water system using a series of plant filter beds for evaporation was never finalized for permit due to staff changes.


Design - Prototyping. Due to limited budget students could not undertake sophisticated model making or prototyping. For some students rough model making was enough for them and the staff to be confident that their approach was suitable. In other cases the lack of detailed model making meant that the communication aspect of their design was not fully realized.

Design students wanted to work with the Unitec building students to construct ‘intelligent’ interior walls that could contain products thus eliminating the need to double up on material usage. Examples of this would have been full height and width storage walls, illuminating walls, grey water systems and lighting systems. Due to budget restrictions and the house build being stopped these ideas could not be pursued.

Funding became the major issue for the Ecocrib team. The initial concept was conceived before the Shac project got under way. There was a willingness within Unitec for different disciplines to work together e.g. Design Schools intelligent wall systems. A change to senior management and the loss of much support for the project resulted in funding allocated to other areas

The new faculty members questioned the need to build when it can be modeled to see how it performs. This has higher priority. Improvements can be made before construction at the design stage potentially negating the need for costly renovations twenty to thirty years later.

Council approval was an issue as well. Auckland City Council was the only one in the Auckland region who had not endorsed the Hebel panel system. There was agreement on issuing a building permit for five years with the right to occupy the building. The Ecocrib team wanted occupants in the dwelling for a minimum of two years in order to have reasonable data. Hebel’s panel system has now been approved by the Department of building and Housing

Main Findings

Main findings – Design. Product Design students accepted the challenge to participate in SHaC09; they understand the need to work collaboratively on projects and to find new solutions to the challenge of ‘designing sustainable solutions for the future’. Regarding sustainable materials; design students were frustrated by the lack of availablity of sustainable materials available to them in NZ. Designers working in Europe and America have a readily available pallet of materials that can be substituted for non-recyclable plastics or a much wider array of energy reducing light sources. Designers in New Zealand are hampered by the lack of availability of such materials and the lack of availability of New Zealand centric data on materials specific to New Zealand making Life Cycle Assessments difficult to carry out and make relevant.
Undertaking the SHaC09 challenge has highlighted the need to findout exactly how to integrate sustainability into and already overcrowded curriculum and finding the right balance of design skills and sustainability knowledge. It is certainly true that students who wish to study sustainability in design are a certain type of student and attracting these students to study is a challenge.

Collaborative – Unitec’s Ecocrib entry was a collaborative project involving Applied Trades (UATI) Design and Landscape Architecture. They used the Ning social networking site to collaborate and this proved to be very useful. Dell ebooks and Nokia N95 smart phones were given to the students to make data sharing easy and fun. Regular COPs were held to update students on the latest software and Web 2.0 tools. Students in Design and Landscape made good use of the tools and technologies and their interaction can be seen at

Budget – This is a difficult area to comment on. For Designs perspective the budget was always going to be an issue; prototyping is always expensive and often out of reach of the student. Programmes do not have the funds necessary to pay for students projects to be built therefore sponsorship is very often necessary.
This is especially so with the building because of a high capital input. The timing of the recession did not do the team any favours. The 2008 enthusiasm of sponsors disappeared completely in early 2009. Unitecs Ecocrib site on the Mt Albert campus had no electrical or water connections adding another fifty thousand dollars for alternative energy generation.

Bigger picture thinking – In these difficult financial times money needs to be spent well. Computer models will enable us to design buildings that perform to criteria to ensure sustainability before outlaying money for the building process. The less energy used over the lifetime of the building and the greater timeframe before any major intervention or renovation makes it more sustainable. If the world as a whole is using 1.5 times the available resources the longer economic lifespan of a building and contents must increase its sustainability. There is a requirement here to design flexibility into the use of buildings. The challenge is the development of software to forecast how a building will perform and building in a more controlled environment to reduce waste.


Roger Bateman. I found the SHaC09 project very worthwhile. We integrated SHaC09 into the curriculum and ran a semester long project on sustainable design. Students were required to design concepts or products that answered the SHaC09 criteria whilst at the same time could be used/retrofitted into any exsiting or future interior. It was allowing for this diversity of approach that pushed the students beyond the project brief.

Robert Tait. It was truly an interesting but very frustrating project. Building students set up the Ecocrib website as part of a technology paper focusing on sustainability. They identified the problems and with the support of course facilitators wrote the brief. Frustrating for all when funding did not eventuate and the house was not built.


(Building Staff) Robert Tait, Daniel Fuemana, Don Mardle, Steve Withers (Building Students) Daniel Boot, Graham Byron, Augustine Fepuleai.
(Built Environment Staff) Linda Kestle, Harry Roedel, Steve Hutana
(Product Design Staff) Roger Bateman, Martin Boult, Cris de Groot, Isaac Flitta (Product Design Students) Damon Stenhouse, Jane Hakaria, Jesse Hinde, Elliot Grainger, Mark Buntzen, Winne Wu, Anne Feng, Akira Zhong, Oli Perilo, Mark Coulson, Kyle Backhouse-Smith, Natham Apiata, Michael Burr, Kristina Martin, John Tilling, Rebekah Williams.
(Landscape Architecture Staff) Penny Cliffin, Ian Henderson and students
(School of Communication Staff) Sara Donaghey, Ed Mason, Tim Marshall and students
Engineers; Rob Foster, HFC: Civil & Structural (north) Ltd.
Dave Convery & Bruce Green ( Geotech engineers)
Associate Professor Shane West, Head of Building and Construction Management, University of Canberra, Australia. (Project collaborator)
Auckland City Council; Mark Urlich, Eion Scott, Rob Woodger, Bill Vautier

"The sustainability context expands the boundary of what design is, what it does and also who is involved, by drawing on dialogues, individuals and groups from outside design’s traditional confines".
Fletcher & Dewberry 2001

More Information

* Final Report (.pdf)
* Consent Documentation (.pdf)

© SHAC Team Unitec Ecocrib 2009, Some Rights Reserved. Except where otherwise noted, this work is licensed under

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Comment Wall

Comment by Roger Bateman on August 18, 2009 at 6:07
How many of us from Unitec are going to the Symposium. 3 for Design I hope: 2 students, 1 staff.
Comment by Roger Bateman on August 18, 2009 at 6:08
for more information of the landscape and design work on SHaC09 see:
Comment by Roger Bateman on November 6, 2009 at 21:37

Comment by Roger Bateman on November 6, 2009 at 21:44
SHaC09 exhibition opens at Unitec 09.11.2009 and runs to 19.11.2009.

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