Te Whaiti Marae: Toi Ohomai researchers and partner organisations join with Matekuare Whanau at the launch of the project Te Whaiti Marae: Toi Ohomai researchers and partner organisations join with Matekuare Whanau at the launch of the project CREDIT: Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology

Toi Ohomai launches 'green' project to research sustainable housing and health outcomes for Te Matekuare Whānau

Thursday 16 November 2017, 11:43AM
By Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology


Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology has received $700,000 in National Science Challenge funding to research new designs for sustainable and affordable homes and identify how these contribute to health and wellbeing for Māori. 

The research project – Toitū te Kāinga, Toitū te Ora, Toitū te Tangata (Sustainable Homes, Healthy People) – was launched today at Murumurunga Marae, Te Whaiti in the Eastern Bay of Plenty, where Te Matekuare Whānau Trust landowners are in the process of developing a papakāinga, or housing settlement. Initial concept designs for the papakāinga were revealed today.

Awarded as part of the Building Better Homes, Towns and Cities National Science Challenge, the funding is the largest ever received by Toi Ohomai for a research project. The institute has partnered with scientists from Unitec Institute of Technology and Scion, and Auckland offsite design and manufacturing company Tall Wood, which is designing the sustainable homes for the papakāinga.

The research will investigate optimal designs and the most effective materials with which to build sustainable, affordable housing for the papakāinga, as well as examine the health benefits resulting from families living in healthier homes. It emphasises the true costs of affordability, which include both the capital costs of construction, and the long-term operating costs of living in a house over many years. Preliminary work has already begun.

The research will be directed by a committee of kaumatua whose role is to provide oversight of issues specific to Māori.

Leading up to today’s launch, Toi Ohomai researcher Dr Ian McLean said the research has the potential to contribute to housing development throughout the country and elsewhere. 

“It will address the issues of tikanga, affordability, sustainable design, wellbeing and living environments that we believe should be central to the discussion around affordable housing. This is a fantastic initiative for social housing and extremely topical for New Zealand. 

“We will test various housing designs and link our research to outcomes for people, with the primary aims of protecting cultural values, reducing living costs and improving wellbeing.”

Te Whaiti, near Murupara, is known for its hot, dry summers and bitingly cold winters and it is thought likely that damp, cold conditions, use of wood fires and substandard housing has led to significant ill health among the people who live there. Rates of asthma and other respiratory illnesses in the small community are among the highest in New Zealand. Trust chair Hinerangi Goodman said Matekuare need to get back to their land to build their papakāinga, and also need the buildings to be genuinely affordable and offer healthy living environments. 

“This project means everything to the Matekuare whānau because the land was left for us by our tipuna specifically for building our papakāinga. We are the land, the land is us, and we want to develop that land so that it sustains our people. 

“Toi Ohomai has been the champion for the Matekuare Whānau Trust in bringing us closer to realising our dream. They have brought in the experts who will be working on this project. The whole whānau is on board and we are all very excited to have got to this point.”

Toi Ohomai Chief Executive Leon Fourie said the research project offers an excellent opportunity to partner with iwi and work together in the community. 

“We welcome the chance to work closely with iwi on finding solutions that benefit the communities in our rohe,” he said. “This is a great example of making purposeful connections with iwi, researchers and other education providers and collaborating on an innovative project that has regional reach and significant impact.”

The project also means local students can get involved with the health research and design of the homes. 

“As a learning institute that’s a priority for us and it’s a great opportunity for Toi Ohomai to work with the whānau to build exactly what works for them,” said Toi Ohomai lead health researcher Denise Riini. Her team of researchers and nursing students will seek to find out baseline information about the health and wellbeing of research participants from 20 different households. 

“We will be discussing the health aspirations with each participant and looking at whether there is a connection between respiratory health and living conditions. 

“Humidity, temperature and air quality all have an impact on health and wellbeing. We want to find out the extent of that impact and understand how the physical environment can also affect how often individuals need to access health services, or whether people can continue to be cared for in their own home if they are unwell. It’s really important that homes are built with these things in mind and that is what the building design is looking to do.” 

Testing and monitoring of physical environments in homes within the region will begin early next year. Professor Bin Su will install data probes in the homes to monitor indoor climatic conditions and Dr Lian Wu will carry out spirometry testing of the research participants to assess lung function. Mould swabs and other biological samples will also be collected regularly inside the houses to investigate the links between indoor climatic conditions, micro-organisms and occupants’ respiratory health. To provide a comparative measure from an array of living environments and climates, data is also being collected from homes in Auckland and Rotorua.

As the new papakāinga homes are built, similar testing will be undertaken. Differences in the physical environments will be analysed against the potential improvements in the health and wellbeing of whānau.

Tall Wood director Daiman Otto is focusing on creating a simple, sustainable and affordable building solution for the papakāinga, which incorporates tikanga and whānau aspirations for community renewal. The offsite-manufactured ‘self-build’ design will include pre-installed insulation and use engineered timber products, which are making a “massive change” in the thinking around affordable housing he said.

“It’s a really exciting project and will give us a good benchmark of how these products perform. Currently there are few solutions around affordable housing in New Zealand; my role is to create solutions to address housing problems. 

“At Te Whaiti we’re working with the Matekuare whānau to design functional homes which are optimised for energy efficiency. They’re not tiny homes, but highly optimised spaces where every aspect of the home needs to do more than one thing.” 

And when linked to green design, such as water harvesting and recycling, solar energy, and waste minimisation, the houses become genuinely sustainable said Dr McLean.

Hinerangi Goodman said the research will benefit Māori throughout the Motu.

“That’s what we’re excited about. We can see the future where we couldn’t before, and I’m very heartened for our whānau because we’ve missed out on several generations with people dying young from respiratory illnesses. I don’t know anywhere else where homes are built around data that shows and proves why our whānau continue to suffer these illnesses. So that to me is the silver lining in the whole thing – it’s about building healthy homes, and healthy homes mean healthy and happy whānau.”

Building Better Homes, Towns and Cities is one of 11 National Science Challenges which aim to invest in research to tackle New Zealand’s biggest science-based challenges. Hosted by BRANZ, it was launched last year with the vision of “creating built environments that build communities”. 

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