SIPs Installation

It has been a long time since the initial blog on the SIPs house in Wanaka, so I thought I would continue the story and show the ease of the installation of the SIPs panels.

01 CNA SIPS individual panels

This first image shows the smaller individual SIPs panels that were small enough to bring to site by trailer. With fixings through the OSB sheathing into both sides of the bottom plate, these panels were very solid in themselves and didn’t really need the bracing.

02 CNA SIPS arriving on site

All the large preassembled SIPs wall panels are delivered to site on a single load of a Hiab.

03 CNA Unloading SIPS with Hiab

The panels are drilled to provide two balanced lifting points which makes positioning of panels easy for installation.

04 CNA Foam to bottom plate

Before each panel is lowered into position, expanding foam is placed along the bottom plate to fill any voids between the bottom plate and the bottom of the rigid urethane insulation core of the SIPs panels.

CNA air seal to SIPS panel joint

Along with the expanding foam to the bottom plate, a bead of sealant is placed against adding panels to form an air seal between the panels.  We did not rely on this air seal completely as every panel joint was sealed with Proclima Tescon Extoseal tape prior to adding any internal bates and linings.

06 CNA check before initial tacking

Each panel was carefully aligned to be true and plumb prior to temporary fixing.  Final fixing of panels to bottom plate and adding panels occurs when all panels are in place.

08 CNA SIPS panel alignment

The hiab operator was quite familiar with the installation process. While the builders were checking for true and plumb panel alignment and temporarily fixing the panels, the hiab operator had another panel lined up and ready to be lowered into place.

09 CNA SIPS panel in place

The accuracy of the panels was outstanding, this panel simply slid into place and did not require any adjustment. Panels with raking heads also fitted together with a high level of accuracy.

10 CNA SIPS panel splice

Where walls were too large to be transported as one, individual sections could be spliced together on site.  The Kingspan Tek system has a smaller piece or ‘splice’ of Sips panel that fits within the depth of the insulation core which is then fixed to the two adjoining Sips panels. This provides a very strong and easy connection but more importantly it provides a complete thermal barrier of urethane with no thermal bridging between inside and out.

11 CNA SIPS panels installed

The house comes together very quickly and gives an immediate idea of how the windows and doors frame the various views. Structure, insulation and sheathing all in one.

13 CNA SIPS house after an afternoons installation

The installation of these panels took a single afternoon.  The following day all panels were checked and adjusted where needed prior to final fixing.

15 CNA SIPS Double top plate

Following this timber framed elements were added. This included framing for items such as bay windows, roof beams, internal walls and the addition of a continuous top plate.

14 CNA SIPS add internal framing

With the addition of framing, we had to start thinking about achieving a complete air tight environment. Because of the low pitch of the roof we opted for a traditional timber framed structure.  Any external timber framing achieved air tightness by the addition of an Proclima ‘Intello’ humidity variable moisture control layer.  Here you can see a section of Proclima Intel Plus connection strip which will run over the top of all internal timber walls.

19 CNA SIPS Insulated lintel


The SIPs panels are easier to seal. The builders drill holes around all panel connections and inject expanding foam to fill any air gaps. Then these holes and holes for any lifting eyes are taped with Proclima Tescon tape as per the photo above.  All joints between panels (in line or at corners) are also tapped to ensure an airtight seal.  In the above photo you can see that the lintels were held back from the external face  so that when the top plate is installed the entire lintel can be covered with a layer of high grade insulation minimising thermal bridging across the face of the lintel.

17 CNA SIPS Box beam

With the addition of plywood box beams, lintels and verandah posts the bones of the house are complete.  The area of external timber framing is a storeroom that adjoins the triple carport. Electrical services are bought into the building at this point and with the reduced need for insulation to this room, timber framing became an option.

Situation Vacant: Experienced Architectural Technician

We are looking for an experienced Architectural Technician to join us in our Wanaka studio.

We are a small design based NZIA practice with passion and focus on site-specific, energy efficient, contemporary residential projects mainly in the Queenstown Lakes District and Central Otago, but also further afield in NZ.  We work with both NZ and overseas clients who want to achieve the ultimate kiwi lifestyle.  We take a client-centric approach with personalised service and open communication, all within a creative and collaborative environment.  Current projects include residential and commercial projects in Wanaka, Queenstown Central Otago and Wellington.  We love living amongst the lakes and mountains and are avid skiers and mountain bikers. Our studio has great views to the mountains and we are located within walking distance to the lake and the town centre.

Your role will be to produce clear thorough and concise contract & tender documentation.  You will liaise directly with clients, sub-consultants, councils, suppliers and contractors.

We will consider an outgoing person with the following skills & attributes;

  • Confident, well-organised, professional manner, with good communication skills.
  • Friendly, honest and with good interpersonal skills and with a good sense of humour.
  • Imaginative, enthusiastic and motivated, with a can do attitude.
  • The ability to problem solve and apply logical thinking.
  • A high level of interest and understanding of how materials and components are put together, melding beautiful design with ‘build-ability’.
  • Good knowledge of environmentally sensitive construction, sustainability and energy efficient design.
  • Comprehensive technical knowledge of building systems and construction techniques and methodologies.
  • Thorough understanding of the NZ Building Code, NZ standards and regulatory processes.
  • Excellent graphic presentation skills, both hand-drawn and computer generated.
  • A proficient operator of ArchiCad as both a BIM modeling tool and 3D presentation tool.
  • The ability to work collaboratively as a team player but also to work independently showing initiative and good time management to steer a project from concept stage through to physical delivery.

This is a full time salaried position so permanent NZ residency is essential. There is some scope for flexibility in working hours enabling you to be inspired, able to enjoy your work and achieve a good work / life balance.

You will work with assistance and support from both a registered architect and the practice director.  Ongoing professional development is encouraged and fostered.  We pay professional memberships and offer support with continuing professional development or assistance toward NZRAB registration.

Good remuneration appropriate to experience, skills and development.

Please email your CV and 4 or 5 examples of your work by 9th January 2017 to;

The Practice Manager
[email protected]

Thermally Broken Slab & SIPs Preparation

Although the building code only requires the finished floor to be 225mm above finished ground level we decided that this new house should be raised up from the ground 400mm for several reasons;

  • The first 200mm of air above the ground can be the coldest in winter,
  • As the last house in the subdivision we could pick ourselves up higher than the neighbours to get better solar gain and to offer better views out from the site while remaining on a single storey connected to the outdoors,
  • You can use as much garden mulch on garden beds as you like without the risk of rotting out the weatherboards,
  • Stepping up into the house stops dust and garden debris being blown into the house as found with many level threshold houses,
  • Low flood risk,
  • Easy to detail free draining decking around the house as a cheap method of achieving a level threshold and reducing water risk,
  • 400mm is an ideal height for siting on the edge of a deck.

This required the slab to be built up from the existing site with free draining backfill but also allowed the use of 100mm EPS polystyrene which the builders like as it is more rigid and easier to control than 50mm insulation. Usually I would use the more expensive XPS insulation (extruded) as it is closed cell and doesnt take up moisture but as we would be higher than the water table/ ground level I was happy to use the S grade EPS insulation (expanded foam) in conjunction with a good damp proof membrane.

Foundation formwork

We often see thermal diagrams showing the greatest amount of heat loss is out of the side of the slab & foundation, and having lived in a house nearby that has an uninsulated slab, I was very much aware of the need for not only good under-slab insulation but for a thermally broken slab edge. One end of that existing house sticks out of the ground about 300mm or more and the clearly noticeable conduction of the cold through the foundation edge and into the timber overlay flooring for a good couple of metres is a good demonstration of the heat loss at the perimeter of the house. Not only is the slab edge an area of heat loss, it is an area of condensation as the warm moist internal air meets the cold slab edge.  To prevent this thermal bridge and condensation it is important to thermally break the slab from the cold foundation wall which in my mind is better than insulating the foundation as the footing would typically be in contact with the cold ground.

Phenolic foam insulation as thermal break

The photo above shows the use of a high grade Kooltherm phenolic foam insulation to the slab edge. Reinforcing bars pass through this 50mm insulation into the slab and the cuts in the insulation are then filled with expanding foam to minimise any potential thermal bridging.

Underslab insulation

This photo shows that the foundation walls have been poured, the formwork removed, the damp proof membrane & underslab insulation have been laid with reinforcing steel placed ready to receive the concrete slab. The darker coloured high grade insulation can be seen to the inside of the foundation showing that the slab will be completed isolated from the foundation. You can also see a set-down in the slab insulation, where 50mm Phenolic foam has been used to create a slab thickening allowing for steel reinforcing to pass into the slab below a door opening.

The images above show the placement of the slab concrete prior to floating the slab smooth and level with a power float. The thermal break is still visible below the thin layer of concrete spill and this will be cleaned up as the foundation wall is checked for any high points. High points are ground down to ensure a completely level perimeter ready to receive the bottom plate.

Bottom Plate

Bottom plate planed flat

The above images show the placement of the first 140mm bottom plate and hold down straps. The hold down straps are located at the ends of panels and adjoining point loads from window lintels. As we are aiming to achieve a good level of airtightness there is a bead of sealant between the bottom plate and the slab/DPC. Each section of bottom plate is tooled flat and level to ensure that the entire house perimeter is level and that the SIPS panels will butt squarely together.

Double bottom plate

SIPS bottom plate

Thermal mass walls to corridor

The second bottom plate is laid over the level first bottom plate and again receives a bead of sealant to close any air gaps. This second plate is 110mm thick which matches the width of the urethane core of the SIPS panel. Each panel will arrive with a 50mm deep rebate of insulation between the OSB sheathing so that the panels simply place over this second plate and the SIPs panels are fixed continuously on either side into the bottom plate.

Kingspan Tek Panels in the Kia Kaha workshop

Scott inspects the Kingspan Tek panels in the Kia Kaha workshop during fabrication. The panels arrive with each edge rebated so that it can either be placed over the bottom plate or they can be spliced together with a thinner SIPs jointer panel which eliminates solid timber connections further reducing thermal bridging.

Complete SIPs wall

A completed wall panel showing SIPs splice connectors. Each splice provides two layers of 15mm OSB to each side of the panel that are fixed together at regular centres providing a rigid connection without any thermal bridging. You can also see a timber ‘post’ within the panel to the side of the window opening. This post transfers the point load created each side of the window opening as the roof loads are transferred through the window lintel down each side of the window opening.

SIPs panels

Complete SIPs wall panels stacked ready for delivery to site

Wanaka Energy Efficient SIPS House

We are well underway with the structure of a new energy-efficient family home at 52 Dale Street in Albertown. The house is for a typical Wanaka family of 4 with all the associated equipment that comes with a love of the outdoors whether this is at home, around Wanaka or further afield. The house plan accounts for changing needs of teenagers, allowing some independence but also keeping the family unit close-knit and allowing to accommodate family and friends.

The site is the last vacant site in the original stage of Riverside Park so the house had to take into account the position of the surrounding residences in order to create outdoor spaces, avoid overlooking, utilising the sun and making the most of selected view-shafts. Knowledge of how the clients live in their existing Alberttown residence has been utilised to create an outdoor courtyard area that captures the summer sun from mid-morning to late afternoon while sheltering from the typical North-West summer breeze. Alternative outdoor areas (or ‘rooms’) are created to the North and East, vege gardens to the West and the business end vehicle and services areas to the South.

Floor Plan of Proposed Residence

The clients currently live in a 1970’s crib (Holiday Home) that was renovated 6 years ago, receiving a full interior fit out with new internal finishes fixtures and joinery, and as much insulation as possible, so they are fully aware of the benefits of improved thermal performance. However there are limitations on how far you can thermally improve 40 year old construction, so the decision was made to start fresh and employ the best and most current thinking in thermal efficiency. The principles of Passivhaus construction have been employed but only to the extent that readily available materials and construction techniques have been utilised. The construction contract for the house went out to tender to several home group companies and to builders that were familiar and passionate about energy efficiency and eco-friendly construction.

The Tender was won by a local building company Kia Kaha run by Scott Pickett who priced competitively and also provided some good alternative options on construction and materials. The house was detailed with 150×50 timber framing that was sheathed with plywood RAB for airtightness and bracing, and with a horizontal 45×45 structural batten to support the cladding and to eliminate the need for noggins (dwangs) this reducing the amount of thermal bridging through the structure. Internally the 150×50 framing was wrapped in Intello which is an airtight vapour control membrane, and also with another 45 x 45 horizontal batten allowing for a services cavity to minimise penetrations through the vapour control membrane and allow an uninterrupted layer of insulation. A further layer of 50mm insulation was run between these internal battens to reduce thermal bridging further. Scott from Kia Kaha Developments proposed an alternative wall construction using Structural Insulated Panels (SIPS) that would not only improve the insulation value of the wall by reducing thermal bridging but saved $15,000 on the cost of construction. Scott has built about seven SIPs houses in the South Island, including New Zealand’s first SIPs house in Alberttown (less than 100m from Dale Street) so is not only a leader in this technology but has good experience in its construction. The SIPs panels used are Kingspan TEK panels that are imported from the UK. There are some NZ based alternatives arriving on the market but currently, the Kingspan panels are superior and cheaper, with a 110mm Urethane core sheathed both sides with 15mm Type3 OSB (Oriented Strand Board). This marine grade OSB is absolutely formaldehyde-free, glued by PMDI resin and provides all the required bracing and forms an airtight barrier.

I will enter further detailed posts on the use of the SIPs panels on this project as well as other elements of the design that are being utilised to create a comfortable energy efficient home that is far superior to current building practices.


Northlake Wanaka : Plan Change 45

Queenstown Lakes District Council called for public submissions on the Northlake Plan Change by John Edmonds and Associates for the land owner Michaela Ward Meehan. Following is my rushed submission to QLDC;

Thank you for the opportunity to submit on the proposed Plan Change, however I have to express my disappointment at the level of notification of this Plan Change. Plan Change 45 is one of the largest proposals to effect Wanaka both historically and likely into the future.  It may have a larger impact upon Wanaka than previous Plan Changes such as Peninsula Bay and Three Parks yet there is a distinct lack of consultation from QLDC in comparison to those Plan Changes and other capital works such as the Ardmore Street roundabout and car-parking. I became aware of the Plan Change Notification through an article written by the Wanaka Sun newspaper which we received on 25th of August, this despite being an avid reader of local papers with a subscription to the ODT and working actively within the design and building industry.

Wanaka ratepayers are highly interested in the direction of this town so I think QLDC will need to consider the effectiveness and validity of this process if you do not receive a high number of submissions (I suggest you compare the number of submissions against the numbers received for smaller Wanaka issues such as parking on Pembroke Park, Cinema Paradiso and the changes to the Wanaka Library Staff levels).

Despite the lack of time and clear information from QLDC, I do support the idea of the Plan Change and do commend the various land owners for combining together to work towards a cohesive development.


This area of land is within the urban growth boundaries as defined by the Wanaka Structure Plan so it is expected to be developed at some point. However it is the proposed densities that need further consideration.

Zoning D1-D3

I do support the idea of mixed densities and I have no issues with the sleeve of higher density zoning D1-D3 shown to the Outlet Road and the future ‘central road’. However High Density zoning needs to be comprehensively planned and cannot be left to market forces alone, so this proposed zone needs particular research, guidelines and level of control. Wanaka already has some examples of higher density  (although not as high as the density proposed) one has a reasonable level of success, another other not so. The Kirimoko block has been carefully designed and has achieved a reasonable level of amenity, whereas the higher density areas of Riverside park in Alberttown have had no design input or control and is a less than satisfactory level of development.  Therefore the applicant needs to provide additional information and guidelines before a high level of density is approved.

Zoning B1-B5

This zoning makes up the vast majority of the Plan Change however it contravenes the intentions of the Wanaka Structure Plan with its proposed density of 10 dwellings/ha. The Wanaka Structure Plan outlines an appropriate density of 5 dwellings/ha.

The extent of this higher density is inappropriate as it provides blanket suburbia with little visual or physical amenity. This density is higher than the Lake Hayes Estate (8.4 dwellings/ha ‘QLDC District Capacity, 2008) over an area greater than Lake Hayes Estate. It is frequently commented that Lake Hayes Estate is a poor quality suburban environment even with the surrounding natural landscape features. This level of density does not allow for landscaping to mitigate the built environment.

Consideration needs to be given to Wanaka’s growth projections as the most recent study was completed and based upon growth numbers during a boom period prior to the recession (Wanaka Land Demands Study: 2007). The overall density of the Plan Change allows for higher densities than allowed in the Wanaka Structure Plan which was based upon high growth models with a fair amount of additional weight. QLDC and the developer need to consider what employment in Wanaka will support 1,600 odd new dwellings. Studies carried out by QLDC have identified that majority of people decide to live in Wanaka because of the openness and freedom of space, quite different needs than Queenstown. The developer needs to consider the success of their Northlake Stage 1 where the 1 acre lots with the potential ability to be subdivided down to a minimum lot size of 1.800m2, this size of property is obviously highly desirable and is maybe where the market is at rather than a blanket 10 dwellings/ha approach.

My opinion is that Zones B1-B5 are more appropriate at 5 dwellings/ha with the surrounding zones C1–C4 being appropriate at a minimum of 1,500m2 given their location adjoining the Lake and Clutha River. The larger lot sizes adjoining the River and Lake potentially will minimize the impact upon the high amenity of the lake and river edge, but care will be needed to consider the bulk and height of these dwellings.


Applying either the Wanaka Structure Plan baseline density or the Plan Changes higher proposed density to the site will have a significant impact on traffic within and outside the development.

Currently Aubrey Road is a highly desirable route into Wanaka for both cyclists and pedestrians with little available alternatives. As an Alberttown resident I have been commuting by bike on Aubrey Road for the past 8 years and are aware of many regular walkers and cyclists that the proposals Traffic Study does not reflect. Both Wanaka Primary and the Holy Family School have spent much time encouraging cycling and walking and there are regular family groups that cycle from Alberttown and its surrounds into school, particularly outside of the winter months. Looking at the proposals ‘Traffic  Generation and Distribution’ projections, in the morning and evening peak hours there will be a car entering the intersection of Aubrey Road and Outlet Road every 2.5 seconds (24/minute) which will have a significant impact upon the enjoyment and safety for cyclists and pedestrians.

A strategy on how to maintain a safe route into town needs to be developed before the Plan Change is consented.

Green Spaces / Walking and Cycleways

The Wanaka Structure Plan has long paid much lip service to maintaining green open spaces and linkages. Subsequent Plan Changes such as this one often refer to the Structure Plans intent for Green spaces and linkages in order to ‘tick the box’ but the reality is once a Plan Change is approved the Green spaces and linkages do not make it into the development plan. A good example of this is the Three Parks Development where the discussion documents and application material often referred to this objective but looking at the District Plans ‘Three Parks Structure Plan’ (12-171: May 2007) it is obvious this objective is lost with the Green Spaces and Linkages being piecemeal and token gestures with little amenity.

Plan Change 45 shows 5 vague suggestions of cycle and pedestrian routes connecting to the surrounding river corridor and ‘sticky forest’ but how they connect to green spaces and linkages within the plan change area and whether these notions remain meaningful and provide the desired objective is highly questionable.

Again the applicant needs to provide specific information on how they intend to satisfy this objective and ensure that it continues through the process to achieve a asset for both the development and wider community who may pass through the development.


I am generally supportive of the comprehensive combined Plan Change. More thorough analysis and design solutions are needed in the following areas;

  • Fairness of the Notification process in reaching the wider community.
  • Specific design approach and guidelines for proposed High density areas.
  • Reconsideration of the suburban blanket of 10 dwellings/ha with little amenity and more up to date analysis of growth projections/ demographic and market demand.
  • Consider the bulk and height of properties on the fringe of the Lake and River.
  • Strategy to provide safe alternative travel and leisure routes for pedestrians and cyclists both through and adjoining the Plan Change area.
  • Strategy to provide high amenity Green Spaces and linkages within the Plan Change area and practical connections beyond the site.

I am concerned that the Plan Change notice found on the QLDC website limits the ability to make further submissions to only those who ‘represent a relevant aspect of public interest (eg a community association or environmental group) or have an interest in the plan change that is greater than the general public’.  This indicates the intention is to not run a democratic process and I ask why QLDC want to exclude the rate paying public of Wanaka? Is this new policy of QLDC that will apply to all significant development of Wanaka and does this have any legal grounding? With this limitation of submissions and the poor level of notification you will not receive feedback from a more general cross section of interested individuals.

Office space to rent

39m2 1st floor air conditioned office with dedicated car-park on Reece Crescent, directly above Smiths City. Available late July 2013,  short or long term.

Shared facilities include kitchen, toilets, shower and roof terrace. Views out to Mount Iron and the Criffel Range.

I will consider rental of part of the floorspace if you are happy to share the space with others.

Please call or pop by Chris Norman Architecture to view.

[email protected]
027 663 6224

Wanaka Haven Luxury Lodge

This design for a combined residential property and 5-bed visitor accommodation was challenging despite having a large 4-hectare site. The dedicated platform was relatively small, poorly orientated and came with a 5-metre height restriction. A number of configurations were considered before settling on separate wings of private and guest accommodation that are joined by the living areas facing the North.

This gave priority of view and sunlight penetration to the guest bedrooms and both the guest and private living areas. The remaining Guest bedrooms face east and the private bedrooms face east through an internal courtyard.

The courtyard allows for breakout areas for both the private and guest areas away from the predominant Northwester and potential areas of shade in the summer months. Hedging will create outdoor rooms within the courtyard separating the entry from amenity spaces.

A limited combination of materials was used in the project with render and schist to Northern aspects receiving a lot of sun and wind, and natural timber (cedar, Douglas fir and Macrocarpa) to areas adjoining human activity and in shaded verandahs or Southern facing areas. This added warmth to the exterior while minimising maintenance.

The warmth of timber is carried into the interior with the use of double timber doors into the main entry and timber floors throughout the living and bedroom areas. Circulation areas are tiled and are generous in size to avoid damage from suitcases and bags. There is a drying room for ski gear to minimse gear inside the guest rooms.

 The 15 degree pitch allows the skillion ceilings to give a sense of spaciousness without feeling too lofty and keeping the building within the height restriction. A minimum 2.7m stud was employed to maintain a sense of space and ensure that mountain tops were not cut out of view.

The total floor area of the project is 560m2 so energy costs were a key consideration. It was decided that the guest and private living areas would have a wood-burner each for visual comfort and any power outages but the remainder of the heating would be meet with a geothermal (ground to water) heat exchanger that runs under-floor heating (UFH) throughout the house. This simplified the heating and domestic hot water systems providing low maintenance and highly efficient use of energy.

To keep heat loss to a minimum the perimeter included 600mm deep polystyrene block foundation walls and continuous XPS insulation under the slab.

The walls received a 100mm layer of batt insulation between 150mm studs and 100mm noggins and a second layer of 50mm rigid insulation continuous over the noggins. The ceiling received similar treatment with 200mm batts between the rafters and 50mm rigid insulation between the purlins on edge. This criss-cross of insulation minimizes cold bridging through the structure.

To stabilize internal temperatures and to provide good acoustic privacy between the rooms, 140mm masonry block work was used internally to enclose all bedrooms and living areas.

The use of PVC windows from NK Windows in Christchurch added to the thermal efficiency of the enclosure and allowed flexibility with tilt/turn or tilt/slide functionality.

All bathrooms were treated as wet rooms and finished with quality Grohe and Villeroy and Boch sanitaryware.

Each guest room has its own external sitting area that creates a private zone while providing shade from the summer sun while allowing the low winter sun to penetrate into the rooms.

As a rural site on site septic disposal was required. Two Biolytix Biopods were utilised using worms and other organisms to convert sewage into garden irrigation water. The driplines where designed to irrigate the lawn directly to the North of the building while making allowance for a future swimming pool and spa pool. Both of these shall be heated using the existing geothermal heat exchanger.

The clients are busy establishing productive planting on site with an orchard already providing fresh berries for the guests. It will be interesting to see the landscaping grow and further define spaces extending beyond the house.

Photography : Larsson Photography and Chris Norman Architecture Ltd.

Situation Vacant

Architecture Graduate or Registered Architect

I have filled this position with the appointment of Duncan Barron a graduate from Victoria University of Wellington. Duncan not only has great computer presentation skills but brings a sense of build-ability to his creative ideas. Many graduates presented great imagery but often with little sense of structure and construction. It is great to think outside the square but it is also important to be able to progress these ideas into physical reality. Equally important as a commercial employer is to progress these ideas into a economic and functional reality.

Duncan also brings in interesting ideas from his thesis on Suburban Infill for Wellington that are equally applicable to all suburban areas of New Zealand; see an extract below;

Since widespread private car ownership became the norm, low density detached housing has become embedded in a New Zealand culture that reveres the traditional suburban home. However, as the population of New Zealand’s major cities continue to grow and experience demographical shifts, it is realised that the current trend in low density detached housing does not provide a sustainable solution to meet our future housing needs. My thesis explored how row housing can be integrated into a suburban context to meet the demographical needs and suburban amenity associated to the traditional detached home. Row housing has provided the needs for dense residential habitation across the world for many centuries. Despite this, row housing is a relatively new form of housing to New Zealand, with very few Wellington developments located in suburbia. Medium density housing developments are becoming increasingly important as an alternative housing type to intensify existing areas and contain the proliferation of suburban sprawl.

With the majority of Wellingtonians choosing to reside in the suburbs, the comparative nature of increased dwelling density in row housing goes against the tradition and ethos of low density detached home ownership. As a result, there is a strong conflict with the integration of row housing, compounded by public resistance and market aversion to this housing type. When considered in context, it is acknowledged that row housing invariably involves a degree of compromise in seeking to identify with local traditions of low density detached housing. Three key interconnected design issues are identified: the accommodation of internal garaging and car access, the relationship between internal living space and outdoor space and the degree of individuality expressed to each house.

Queensbury Hills House: Project Update

The Queensberry Hills house is now under construction and first impressions are more than we had wished for. As a stand-alone object in the environment it feels well connected to the landscape with the precast concrete panels similar in tone to the local rock outcrops. The decision was made to eliminate the cantilevered walls on the downslope side of the house in order for the house to rise out of the ground while simplifying load paths due earthquake loading in combination with the high snow loading found at the 560 metre elevation. To minimize earthquake loads we have also decided to use a schist chip wearing-layer over the membrane roofing in lieu of the tussock & earth covered roof.

The robustness of the panel walls is symbolic that the house is designed for a windspeed of 216km/ hour which will lift grit to effectively sandblast the exterior. The openings in the panels now frame particular viewpoints which were previously lost in the immense landscape panorama. There is particular focus on features like the Clutha River, Lake Hawea, the Saint Bathans and Pisa mountain ranges.

Oversized conduits have been passed under the walls allowing for flexibility of services and heating options. The primary heat source is a ‘Earth Tube’ ground to air heat exchanger which will feed into a high spec Energy Recovery ‘Air to Air’ heat exchanger.  The Earth Tube comprises of a 225mm diameter corrugated pipe that is run through a 140 metre long service trench from the site boundary. It is estimated that if the outside temperature is -5o C and the ground temperature is at 10oC we should be able to deliver the air at 7oC to the house.  This incoming air will then pass through a Counter Flow Energy Recovery Heat exchanger that will be preheated by the transfer of energy from the stale exhaust air that is to be vented to the outside. Modern ERV systems such as the Zehnder Comfosystem that is being offered by Fantech in NZ offer up to 95% heat recovery of the exhaust air. As a physical feature the client is looking at a sculptural Cheminee woodburner that will be direct vented to avoid drawing preheated fresh air up the chimney.

Given the large area of the site the client is still considering a ground loop ‘Ground to Water’ heat exchanger to heat the domestic hot water. We originally considered this as a heat source for under-floor heating but we are moving away from the idea of this given the high level of insulation air tightness and efficiency of Energy Recovery ventilation systems. In simplifying the heating system the floor slab may provide potential for thermal mass and temperature stabilization through the employment of Phase Change Materials being incorporated into the slab. This technology is relatively new and may be difficult to source products for the floor within NZ.  This technology is available as a proprietary product in Germany with Doerken offering a product called Delta Cool 24 which is available as a panel product with 20mm of Delta Cool 24 offering the equivalent heat capacity storage as 240mm of concrete.

The project has been designed so that it will be constructed as a weathertight structure with a free spanning roof structure allowing the interiors and services to be completed in a manner similar to a commercial fitout. The advantage of this is that the client can confirm the interior layout within a physical space, adjustments to the fit-out budget can be made after monitoring the ‘lock-in’ costs and the design can respond to changes in technology and product availability in the time it takes to get the necessary building consents and to construct the building enclosure.

Old School

My family and I took a holiday over Christmas and most of January visiting the Hawkes Bay and Gisborne region. It was interesting to see how the regional architecture responded to the climate and local built environment. Staying in Taradale the urban fabric was tightly knit but with large trees which helped give character where there was no view and shade from the hot Hawkes Bay climate. In some respects the architecture of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s responded to excessive summer heat by using smaller openings, large overhangs, and small courtyards in a similar manner that we are employing here in Wanaka to deal both with excessive summer heat and to deal with heat loss, frosts and winds in the Winter.  We are inspired by overseas architecture that looks great in the coffee table books and magazines, but even here in young NZ there are many lessons to be learnt from the past that we need to keep reviewing as we are presented with new technologies and patterns of living. Although advances in construction present new opportunities, are these always appropriate to the local issues?

Another example of looking to the past seen on our trip was the evidence in the 1931 Napier earthquake and the Art Deco rebuild of this city. Many issues like collapsed brick parapets & ornamental features where all well documented in 1931 and we have seen a disastrous repeat of that in the 2011 Christchurch earthquakes, we are aware of this but what action will the rst of NZ take?

Napier responded to immediate needs with a ‘pop up’ retail mall in a city park which we have again seen in Christchurch. I also imagine we are going to see a similar response of low scale simplified buildings that are built out of a desperate need for space and built during tough economic times.

Another example of missing or perhaps ignoring the clues of the past is the issue of flood waters from Lake Wanaka. The two remaining residential properties within the township of Wanaka (one now remaining since January 2012) were both elevated from the existing ground level by at least 1 metre. Town developed around these buildings but with no respect to the historical clues that these two earlier buildings had. Now the township is in a difficult position where some buildings have considered flood levels and others have not and it is nearly impossible to rectify this with ad hoc development so we have to deal with the consequences whereas we could have designed around this.

I recently acquired a series of Renovation books on Villas; Bungalows; Art Deco; 1940-1960s and 1970s produced by BRANZ which detail the development of various residential styles and their method and materials of construction.  Many of the details of these styles of building have been superseded by new aesthetic requirements but the practicalities and functionality of some of these details should not be forgotten and the limitations of their construction can constantly be reviewed in light of new material developments. Part of my review process comes about from living in new houses and realising the limitations of details that have now become commonplace. I question my old default response of level thresholds and slabs on grade, while these may be the right solution in some cases, some of the older architecture may provide clues on why for alternative detailing may be appropriate.

At the recent NZIA conference in Auckland a slide was shown of some graffiti stating ‘’Question Everything’’ with a second scribble below responding ’’WHY’’

The study and influence of context

As chairperson of the Wanaka Urban Design Panel, it is frustrating to see proposals come past the panel that are designed as stand alone buildings without proper consideration of its neighbours let alone looking slightly further afield and responding to the character, scale and rhythm of the streetscape. I do not see how designers can start to design without examining the conditions that their proposals will sit among.  I am not suggesting that designers should copy their neighbour but some logic can be derived by the surrounding conditions. The shape and size of a tree in a forest will be influenced by the tree adjoining; the wind and availability of sunlight, it may not even be the same species to its neighbours but it will share some common influence and look part of the whole.

This is not limited to urban situations with suburban and rural sites needing to consider a much wider context. Natural influences such as wind sun topography and views can have more influence than the surrounding built forms. I continue to be involved in a design review service for local housing companies which is a great opportunity to examine the context and make the investment of a house much more than merely checking off a wish list of 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, open plan living and so on. Capturing a certain view, achieving privacy from the neighbours  or providing outdoor access to a sheltered court may not necessarily cost any more but make living in that building so much more enjoyable.

A recent example of this is a house built by Stonewood Homes of Wanaka. The result may not be highbrow architecture, but the spaces work well because we took the time to consider where the furniture would go and there is easy connection to an outdoor area that is private with great views, sun and shade from the west. The most pleasing aspect of this is that we managed to achieve this while maintaining the views of the ridgeline from Mt Roy back along Mt Alpha. The clients are happy that they have been delivered a well built house on budget and are happy they were prepared to take a little extra time to refine the proportions of the house and to consider how the plan worked internally and in the greater context.

Western Shade

Mt Alpha View

If the Italians had colonised Wanaka

I read in the Otago Daily Times that the Upper Clutha Environmental Society are appealing against a residential platform in Dublin Bay proposed by Annabel Langbein and Ted Hewetson.  While I applaud the efforts made by the Society to provide a check against unbridled development across the region, I do question the impact on amenity that this residence will have as there is already existing residential development and human activity is clearly etched into the landscape.  Personally I think Dublin Bay would be a great spot for further intensification into a compact village that enjoys the lakeside amenity while having little impact from other positions either around or on the Lake.

This raises the question ‘have we got the District Plan and Wanaka Structure Plan correct?’ The Structure Plan clearly defines Wanaka’s urban spread within the confines of the Clutha and Cardrona Rivers down to Hill End and up to Rippon. Any land outside of this area is zoned Rural, however residential activity in the guise of Lifestyle blocks is already peppering this landscape in a similar way that has occurred in the Wakatipu Basin. I doubt that either the Wakatipu or Upper Clutha basins will provide more than minor agricultural benefit to our communities within the next 20 years, a great loss of rich productive land.

If the Italians had settled the area they would not have allowed this to happen! They would cluster their urban centres around transport hubs such as rivers and lakes providing potable water and additional food source as well as providing amenity for social and leisure activities. Alternatively they would have settled on the foothills of the mountains, either way the land outside of these localised communities would remain productive.

A good example of this can be seen in the foothills of the Italian Alps around Lake Garda where the lake edge is dotted with clusters of communities that neither detract from the amenity of the lake nor the surrounding mountains. Other great examples can be seen throughout the coastline of Croatia, with fantastic dense communities such as Hvar and Korcula providing a beautiful social hub on the water edge and you only have to walk less than 5 minutes and you are in productive rural areas.

Lakes Wanaka and Hawea present many opportunities for clusters of communities around the waters edge that are visually separated from each other leaving a sense of openness within an natural landscape. If we intensified the original communities of Lake Hawea; Johns Creek; Hawea Flat; Alberttown; Lake Wanaka and Tarras along with new intensified communities at Dublin Bay, Glendu Bay and dare I say it Damper Bay, we could all enjoy the Lakes and Rivers, utilise the productive flat land while enjoying the rural amenity instead of living in a suburban blanket of individual landlocked plots.

If we all had a lake view and access to the waters edge within 5 minutes walk would we need to have a quarter acre private realm with green grass that requires mowing and irrigation?

Lake Dunstan House

I recently visited a project that I designed and documented as Director of my previous partnership to see how the house is settling into its environment. The owner has made good progress on the landscaping and external works which is often an area that gets neglected  as either the time, effort or money was not allowed for in the original project plan or budget.

This particular site has its challenges of cold and extreme wind conditions, so it is good to see robust planting to match the robust detailing of the external cladding and exterior courtyard.

Originally it was envisioned that both the Living and Bedroom wings be clad in schist and the separate garage be clad in corrugated iron. For reasons of budget and ensuring that the quality of stonework used was exceptional, the living wing was clad in schist and the bedroom wing and garage were clad in a plaster system in muted colours to satisfy the Central Otago district Council. The stonework by Southern Stonemasons has come up very well, a job well done.

Wanaka Town Centre Character Guideline

The Wanaka Town Centre Character Guideline was formally adopted by the QLDC Strategy Committee last Tuesday so it is now an operative document. Although it has no statutory standing it will inform future versions of the district plan particularly in terms of bulk and height limits within the town centre.

You can view the document here.

My hope is that it will help tie in all the QLDC capital expenditure in and around the town centre with a common language and quality of elements and materials. There are two recent examples of where this would have been beneficial but unfortunately has not been carried through by the council itself;

  1. Due to delays in the roundabout on Ardmore and Brownston Streets, the council shifted the budget to the burying of power cables along Brownston Street, which also required new light poles along Brownston Street. The Town Centre Character Guideline references timber light poles (the Wilson pole) in at least three sections noting the importance of consistency in fittings that are non-period specific. However the trend to expedite the now at the expense of the future prevailed as the community board approved the council’s proposal to use octagonal steel poles that the guideline had specifically identified as being phased out. The reason given was that the timber poles are more expensive but I believe the small number of lights needed that this would have been a minimal cost in the scheme of things and somehow QLDC found the budget for these as these timber light poles have been utilized along Frankton Road leading into Queenstown. How can the council expect developers to buy into a better quality environment for the town centre when they are not prepared to do it themselves?
  2. The second example is the controversial speed humps along lower Ardmore Street. These have been on the radar for some time after being fleshed out by the Transport Strategy and the Town Centre Strategy so there is no issue whether they should be there or not. The issue I have is that the Town Centre Strategy and the Guidelines both identified that there needs to be both a comprehensive masterplan and consistency of materials and design. Neither the masterplan nor standard detailed designs of raised pedestrian crossings have been completed.

The council may argue that the Character Guidelines were not complete when this work was scheduled but this work has been in the pipeline for some time and the council need to fully adopt them if they expect the private developers to follow. The guidelines and strategies developed by the council are great, the big challenge is getting the various council department heads down to the worker on the street to buy into this vision, quality outcomes have now joined the timelines and budgets with equal importance.


The much used term ‘Sustainability’ has been a great driver for awareness of the resource and environmental issues that face current and future generations but I believe its misuse or overuse is starting to dilute not only what is possible but what we should all be doing.  Technically architecture (as we know it) is not a sustainable activity unless we can utilize renewable resources from within our  ‘fair earth share’ of ecological footprint, currently about 1.7 hectares per person on earth (see NZ Footprint project by Otago Polytechnic Centre for Sustainability).

This may be an impossible task but we need to seriously review how we build particularly in terms of embodied energy of materials, size of building for purpose, durability and adaptability. Sticking a solar panel on your house or marketing your existing building products under the label of ‘Future Proof Building’ does not make you sustainable.

For example; in the Houses (NZ) Winter 2011 magazine there is a feature on a new contemporary residence with a designers note that ‘’ Sustainability was also important, and the house utilizes solar hot water and rainwater recycling’’.  These are great things to do but this is for a single bedroom 200m2 house with full height glazing to about 70% of the exterior walls with air conditioning as a heat source.

Also the designers behind the new Wanaka Lakes Health Centre claim ‘sustainable design was a key consideration with approved green build materials and energy efficient services design…’  Sustainability doesn’t come into my mind when I view that the new building in effect is a large shed with a very deep floor plate (30 x 54 metres?) that relies on mechanical services and light .  There was so much scope to employ natural ventilation and lighting rather than rely on ‘energy efficient’ mechanical services; the costs in allowing openings within the plan would offset the costs for increasing the size of services to create an artificial environment and would have greatly reduced the running costs over the life of the building.

So the Sustainable banner comes out again and again but I think we need to try a little harder than this if we truly want to work within our limited resources whilst creating architecture that truely delights.

Wanaka Town Centre Guidelines

Well it has been some time since I have made a Blog entry. My excuse is that not only do I have a hectic family life within this piece of paradise, I have been quite busy with changing from PC to Mac computers and completing a variety of projects ranging from landscape features, remodeling of older cribs; extensions to 1950’s brick houses and a new build residence designed to withstand a Design Wind speed of 216km/hour. I am really looking forward to several of these projects starting on site once temperatures warm up in the spring.

I have also been busy as a member of the Queenstown Lakes District Council steering group for the development of The Wanaka Town Centre Guidelines. The guidelines were contracted out to some urban designers from Auckland who traditionally produce very good work.  Unfortunately in this case they prepared a guideline that was very wordy with quite generic guidelines that didn’t demonstrate a local understanding of what makes Wanaka different. The steering group was quite disappointed, as we had hoped for something quite graphic and inspirational, instead we had abundance of words that were hard work to read through, let alone be inspirational.

After little progress with 4 drafts over a 6 month period QLDC took over the writing of the document and with the help of the local steering committee have produced a document that is specific to Wanaka and should help both building designers and developers produce good buildings that are sympathetic to the communities desires. I think it is a good demonstration that local knowledge is absolutely key, otherwise you will end up with a product that is not relevant no matter how clever the creators are.

Hopefully QLDC will look at bit closer to home in the future; there is good experience in Wanaka. The Guideline has been out for public comment and can be found on the QLDC website.

Hill House

A precast concrete panel house designed to withstand a harsh sub alpine environment while making the most of passive solar gain and ventilation.


Proposed Peninsula Bay House for Stonewood Homes

Rural Zoning Discussion Document

The Queenstown Lakes District Council recently gave the community the opportunity to comment on the success of the current Rural Zoning. I am primarily concerned with the Rural Living Zones and in particular the Rural Residential Zone.

The district plan objective 8.1.1.i outlines that ‘’All Rural Zones have particular amenity and environmental values, which are important to rural people. These include privacy, rural outlook, spaciousness……’’

I do not believe that the Rural Residential Zone is achieving this objective, particularly as the bulk of Rural Residential Subdivisions are creating lots that are predominantly towards the minimum lot size (4,000m² to 4,500m²).

It would seem logical that the Rural Residential Zone exists to provide a buffer between suburban and rural areas, a halfway density that in some sense gives the appearance of an open rural area without necessarily allowing enough or using the land for agricultural/ horticultural production.

In the text following, I have quickly compiled some examples from Wanaka which demonstrate that the Rural Residential character is more suburban than rural, with most properties maximizing the house size and then constructing cheaper sheds and garages. Many of these areas appear more dense than the older township zoning of nearby Alberttown. As the built form dominates the landscape no amount of mitigation will reduce this (including controls on ‘gateways’ colour and soft landscaping). The majority of the examples shown below directly abut rural or reserve areas so in effect we have a suburban edge abutting our open space.

The above images are on Aubrey Road behind Mount Iron. Often the view is a constant line of houses with limited breaks between and few view-shafts beyond. Of note this area still has many building plots yet to be constructed upon.

The above images are at Clan Mac Road outside the outer growth boundary directly adjoining Rural land and highly visible from the State Highway.

Balneaves Road again outside the outer growth boundary directly adjoining Rural land and the state highway. The lots in the foreground are yet to be built upon so the density will increase.

A possible solution to these issues is to move away from 2 dwellings per hectare to 1 dwelling per hectare, i.e. away from a minimum of 4,000m² to 10,000m².
As an example of this below I have shown a rural residential property at the Northern side of Mount Iron with a lot size of 9,090m². This has allowed the rural character to remain and softens the edge to the reserve zone beyond. The property is large enough to graze several horses and has grapes to the rear.

This is a far more appropriate buffer against Rural General; Rural Lifestyle and open reserve land (DOC etc) than the density currently permitted by the Rural Residential Zoning.

Reviewing the density will have far more effect than trying to mitigate development by planting and materials/colours (although these can be successful). If you design the character of rural areas too much, it can become a bit precious and move away from the diversity that can be seen by rural living areas throughout the country.

As a region we have to look at intensification and consolidation of residential areas without this spilling over the rural landscape like a blanket. The current Rural Residential zone is currently allowing the later.

Back on board

It has been awhile since I have made a post. Google stopped supporting my Blog format so now I have moved over to WordPress.

I am in two minds as whether this page should be called a blog or maybe just comment/ news as the frequency may be erratic. I frequently have comments to post but are often focused on more important items at hand. I now have a moment’s reprise and the two week long inversion over Wanaka is finally lifting, so all is good.