Unitec's Architecture students contribute to community project

12 February 2013

For a team of third year architecture students at Unitec, the practical aspects of building a house have given them an insight into the building industry in New Zealand. They’ve been part of a unique project to design and build houses for Vision West, a not-for-profit low-cost housing company in Auckland.

“It’s our aim to deliver, for the same cost, a much better and healthier home to live in,” says architecture student Travers Reynolds. “One that will last longer, be more durable, and easier to maintain compared to the standard state housing model used by budget housing companies. We’re trying to argue that through good design, well-thought-out building plans and new technologies, we can create a much more highly-insulated house, for example, for the same price.” 

The project has been running for several years now, under the watchful eye of Adjunct Professor Dave Strachan, of Strachan Group Architects (SGA). This is the first year they have worked for Vision West – but not the first time they’ve helped a charity group. The idea originally came from a collaboration between Strachan and his friend, the celebrity builder Cocksy. “Initially Cocksy asked if I would do a set of plans for this charity, KidsCan,” says Strachan. “I was keen to help, and said I’d do the plans. Then I thought I could get my students involved too and convinced Unitec to let the students build the house. The first two years we did it for the charity KidsCan, and the last two years we’ve done it for private clients.” 

A return to working with a non-profit organisation means there is an added dimension to their project. Student Elfie Kitchingham Hamilton says she was inspired by the work Vision West does for the community. “They had these amazing stories about women who’ve been living in their car with their children, and they go to Vision West and they basically transform their lives,” she says. “We’re pretty proud that we can be part of that.” 

The students have been part of the building process all the way through, from talking to Vision West about their requirements, to building the houses from scratch. But they learned pretty quickly that turning their ideas into reality was harder than they’d anticipated. “You realise the significance of a line on a page. When you draw that line and it ends up needing 50 screws and all this extra work, you’re going to think twice about just throwing lines on a page,” says Travers. 

“Even just finding out how many screws need to be on that line,” adds Elfie. “It’s quite humbling, because it shows you what you don’t know. Especially with the planning and the council drawings, the detailing. I thought I roughly knew how to detail a building, but I had no idea.” 

All the students on the project are excited to be building houses for such a good cause. “What we all kind of deep-down hope is for this project to make a significant dent in the fabric of the national housing stock for lower socio-economic situations,” says Travers. “We feel that this prototype, if it goes well, it is going to appeal to landlords like Housing New Zealand and will end up improving our housing stock, which is a huge source of health problems in New Zealand. Hopefully it will create a better living environment right across the country.” 


Articles and photos are copyright to Unitec Institute of Technology.