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Living Walls a Feature of Winning Design

  • The winning ArchEngBuild team
    The winning ArchEngBuild team

Luke Thompson’s interest in sustainability can be traced back to his primary school days when he read a book about worm farming.  His family moved around quite a bit, so starting his own farm wasn’t really an option, but it sparked an interest in living sustainably.  His recent win in the ArchEngBuild competition with his zero-carbon urban garden and community centre was a collaborative effort, he says, billing it “an incredible experience”.  

The Construction Management student went in with the intention of giving it 100% and says his team (including University of Auckland students Jacky Zheng and Tony Wang) worked well together, both personality and concept-wise.  Those efforts certainly paid off with a $7,500 prize pool to be split between the trio.

Now in its eighth year, ArchEngBuild brings together final year architecture design, engineering and construction students from all over the country to work collaboratively on a simulated client brief. Supported by the Building Research Association of New Zealand (BRANZ), the Challenge provides students with a real-life workplace scenario and, in most cases, will be the first time they have worked with another discipline. Each team of three is supported by industry mentors.

The brief of this year’s competition, held in Christchurch, was to facilitate a zero-carbon city through buildings that have a low environmental impact and promote zero-carbon building, design and use.   

Luke’s team’s winning design – Otakaro Community Centre – envisioned a place of gathering and sharing.  The Avon River in Christchurch is known as Otakaro or place of a game, named after the children playing on the banks while food was collected. The idea of the Otakaro Community Centre was to encourage sustainable living and spread innovative ideas, using renewable resources and lowering the carbon footprint.  The concept features renewables and passive energy, including a compost bin, water cycle, base isolators, PV glass, modular plants, solar tubes, smart screens and living walls. 

The team said their focus was on using resources and technology available now while having ‘ready spaces’ for future technology so adaption is as easy and cheap as possible. Using principles of regenerative design, Luke says that water from the river will go through a series of filters, irrigate plants inside the building, then return to the river cleaner than before. This would also result in lower running costs “as we can use existing current to assist with the flow, meaning a smaller pump can be used for irrigation.”

“We hope this building is something that the community would be proud of as much as we are proud of designing it,” the team said. “We believe the design of the Otakaro Community Centre can inspire the design of net-zero carbon structures globally in the future.”

The three-storey site includes a communal garden, dining area, community meeting hall, roof top garden and classroom.  It features deeply driven timber piles sitting under the ground to give the building stability on the weaker topsoil and living cores through the centre that have twisting concrete pillars to assist with lateral resistance. They are called living cores because they allow light into the building, have plants running up the sides, and create “stack ventilation”.

A Unitec Construction Management student – Monica Varrie – was also on last year’s winning team with its stunning and innovative Tupu – an adaptable living community.

Luke is currently working as a project management intern at Maynard Marks, a property and building remediation firm based in Central Auckland.