Read past news stories from the Wellington School of Architecture's 2011 news archive.
On this page:
- January 2011
- February 2011
- April 2011
- May 2011
- July 2011
- August 2011
- September 2011
- October 2011
- November 2011
- December 2011
Group Exhibition Explores Solutions For Christchurch Rebuild
12 December 2011
A group exhibition of a whole trimester of work focused on Christchurch by 60 senior architecture and landscape architecture students from Victoria University is now on display at the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology (CPIT).
Titled Closing the Loops, the exhibition explores the emerging issues facing the Christchurch built environment.
“The exhibition addresses many of the questions and issues that aren‘t currently being addressed—for instance the rebuilding of the High Street precinct as a whole—not just in parts,” says Mark Southcombe, Senior Lecturer from Victoria‘s School of Architecture.
“Many of the student projects consider the loss of heritage and offer solutions for maintaining essential underlying characteristics of a heritage precinct when rebuilding. They also provide ideas for a more liveable sustainable city that is easy to walk around, and examine ways to fix some of the emerging architectural problems, such as the sprawling nature of the city.”
The students began the research for their project with a two-day field trip to Christchurch. They received support from several high profile architecture firms in Wellington and Christchurch throughout the course, including Athfield Architects.
“Many of the works in the exhibition are by Christchurch-born students who will end up settling back in Christchurch—and I‘m sure many of them will end up being involved in the re-build,” says Mr Southcombe.
“I think many of the students appreciated working on an issue that is highly relevant now, as well as close to home.”
SARC383/483 International Field Study to Nepal/Tibet
November - December 2011
SARC 383/483 International Field Study to Nepal/Tibet is a cross-cultural design exploration of spaces, objects and sites in Nepal and Tibet with special emphasis on understanding why and how they are uniquely formed by the historical and cultural contexts they are part of and the design inspiration that can be derived from such understanding. The course has two design components of field analysis in the form of a series of renderings.
Bhaktapur is listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO for its rich culture, temples, and wood, metal and stone artwork. It is the home of traditional art and architecture, historical monuments and craft works, magnificent windows, pottery and weaving industries, excellent temples, beautiful ponds, rich local customs, culture, religion, festivals, musical mystic and so on. Bhaktapur is still an untouched as well as preserved ancient city, which in fact, is itself a world to explore for tourists. From time immemorial it lay on the trade route between Tibet/China and India. This position on the main caravan route made the town rich and prosperous. Bhaktapur is around 13 km east of Kathmandu and lies on the old trade route to Tibet. It occupies an area of around 119 km² at an altitude of 1,401 meters above sea level. Bhaktapur district, in which the Bhaktapur city lies, is the smallest district of Nepal.
Bhaktapur's main square, Durbar Square, houses the 55-window Palace, which was constructed by King Jitamitra Malla and was home to royalty until 1769. It is now a National Gallery. Close by is the Golden Gate which leads into Mulchok Court which is home to the Taleju Temple. This temple, like others in the main towns of the Kathmandu Valley, is dedicated to the goddess Taleju Bhawani and includes shrines to both the Taleju Bhawani and Kumari. Entrance to the temple is restricted to Hindus and the living goddess (Bhaktapur’s Kumari) strictly cannot be photographed. The Durbar square is surrounded by spectacular architecture and vividly showcases the skills of the Newari artists and craftsmen over several centuries. The royal palace was originally situated at Dattaraya square and was only later moved to the Durbar square location. The Durbar square in Bhaktapur was severely damaged by an earthquake in 1934 and has since been completely restored.
The images below show students in Kathmandu visiting the ancient city of Bhaktapur. The students are from ARCI, INTA, LAND, IDDN, and DMDN.
21 November 2011
An event was held last week to celebrate the achievements of Victoria's Solar Decathlon team, which came third in the US Department of Energy competition in Washington DC. More than 100 students, staff, sponsors, friends and supporters were there to congratulate the team on their success. On the following page are some photos from the event.
Victoria student proposes theatre transformation for damaged Christchurch heritage building
21 November 2011
A heritage building within Christchurch‘s inner city High Street precinct is to be saved in the same manner a Victoria University student had suggested in his fourth-year architecture assignment.
The facade of the historic McKenzie and Willis building, which faces Tuam and High streets, is to be retained, while the building behind will be demolished, re-designed and rebuilt.
"My proposal was to do exactly the same thing—retaining the heritage characteristics but re-designing in such a way that it improves what was there before," says Cameron Suisted (pictured with his model), who recently won a High Distinction award at the New Zealand Institute of Architects 2011 Graphisoft Student Awards for his design concept.
"I'm excited that substantial funding is being allocated to the building that I chose to re-design—and plan to submit my design proposal to the Council and the High Street Precinct Group in case they might find something of merit in my ideas."
Mr Suisted‘s proposal is to turn the building into a theatre which would help revitalise and preserve the at-risk High Street precinct. "Whatever the end result, I hope the building will become an active community space that everyone can enjoy and benefit from," he says.
Bright idea wins challenge
7 November 2011
A Victoria University PhD student last week won a Bright Ideas Challenge Wellington Regional Council Award for a product she has designed as part of her PhD in Architecture.
Lee Bint won the Wellington Regional Council Award for her Water Efficiency Rating Tool. The tool is calculated to help building owners reduce their spending on water use by 23 per cent on average, and is proposed to work in combination with a value-added service to enable supported business decision making surrounding water efficiency measures and implementation. The Water Efficiency Rating Tool determines how a building ranks against a regional benchmark, identifies high usage areas, and highlights potential savings by installing water efficient systems.
"I demonstrated the tool to a number of property/building and water industry personnel in late August through market validation workshops, and also discussed it with international water researchers in Portugal and England during September and October," says Ms Bint.
"I received very positive feedback, and some very good fine-tuning ideas as well as future opportunities for international expansion."
Viclink has supported Ms Bint to develop her product, sponsoring her to participate in an Activate course for early stage businesses through Grow Wellington, and providing her with advice and support throughout the entire business learning process.
The working title of Ms Bint‘s PhD thesis is 'Water Benchmarks for New Zealand: understanding water consumption in commercial office buildings', and is supervised by Professor Robert Vale and Nigel Isaacs. She is due to submit her thesis in March 2012, and is hoping to have a business related to her research running by that time.
Ms Bint says she is grateful for the support she has received throughout her PhD studies from the Building Research Levy and the Building Energy End-Use Study (BEES)—a study at BRANZ.
2 October 2011
In a contest that went down to the wire the Victoria University team has been awarded third place at the US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon, just a few points behind the winner. The Meridian First Light house ended with a total of 919 points in the competition against 19 university teams from around the world. The winner of the competition was the University of Maryland with 951 points.
Team member Nick Officer says, “While we may not have won overall we are incredibly proud to have represented New Zealand on the world stage. We had such and amazing response from the US public here along with supporters back home.”
The Solar Decathlon challenges the teams to design, build and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient and attractive. The competition is made up of 10 contests which challenge teams in a number of different areas including energy balance, home entertainment, architecture and engineering.
The Victoria University team had high scores in many of the contests, winning theEngineering contest, gaining first equal in Hot Water and Energy Balance, second for Architecture and third for Market Appeal.
“Even though we didn’t get the top spot overall, we feel like a winning team. Our house performed how we designed it to and it looks great too!,” says Nick.
The Meridian First Light house managed to produce more energy than it consumed over the competition period achieving net zero energy consumption, despite 10 days of undesirable weather.
The final results were announced today at 2:30pm in Washington DC (7:30am NZ time). The houses will be open to the public for the last time tomorrow. Teams then have just four days to pack up their houses and get them off the West Potomac Park. The Meridian First Light house will then be packed back up and put on a ship back home to New Zealand.
26 September 2011
Victoria University students are expecting US visitors in the hundreds of thousands to walk through their solar house inspired by the Kiwi bach.
The Victoria University team is the first ever from the Southern Hemisphere to compete in the US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011.
The Solar Decathlon is a prestigious and highly anticipated international competition challenging university teams from around the world to design, build and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient and attractive.
The competition takes place every two years in Washington DC and the last competition drew over 300,000 visitors over a 10 day period.
Teams worked 24 hours for almost seven days on the National Mall's West Potomac Park to complete their homes in time for the start of public exhibit today. Not all competing teams were ready in time for the final call to stop work but the Victoria team had their house signed off with a few hours to spare.
Team member Nick Officer says, “We all breathed a sigh of relief when the last inspection on the house was signed off. Now‘s the fun part, we get to share our handy work with the US public, we will just have to make sure they understand our Kiwi accents.”
The team‘s entry—the Meridian First Light house—was assembled on Wellington‘s waterfront earlier this year to a fantastic public response. The team now hopes this success will carry over to the US.
Mr Officer says, “Putting the house together on Frank Kitts Park earlier this year gave us a huge advantage both for assembly and public exhibit. Thousands of visitors to the Meridian First Light house will come away learning about what makes the New Zealand lifestyle unique.”
Throughout the 10 days of the competition the 19 student teams will take tours along with competing in a series of 10 contests to assess how well the house performs. The winner of the competition will be announced on 1 October.
26 September 2011
Victoria‘s Solar Decathlon team has been busy with the start of the competition including showing a number of VIPs through the First Light house.
Deputy Prime Minister Hon Bill English visited the house in Washington DC last Wednesday, former New Zealand Prime Minister the Rt Hon Helen Clark (now Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme) visited on Saturday, and the Prime Minister‘s Chief Science Advisor Professor Sir Peter Gluckman also toured the house.
Please help the first light house score points by voting for the first light house in the solar decathlon people’s choice award.
You can vote NZ time until noon on Saturday 1 October.
21 September 2011
The Oticon Foundation in New Zealand has awarded Victoria‘s School of Architecture a research grant to develop and test innovative acoustic solutions in primary schools.
“With the Oticon Foundation backing, we are now looking for primary schools with classrooms with different acoustic features to take part in the research,” says Natasha Perkins, Lecturer, School of Architecture.
“We are prototyping acoustic ceiling forms and an acoustic ‘pod’ that will create a quiet zone for students to work in.”
The research will involve testing the acoustic solutions in a range of classroom spaces including open plan classrooms, those with concrete walls, or concrete piles and with different floor coverings.
Industry support for the programme includes material supplier Autex New Zealand and technical support from Marshall Day Acoustics.
“Research into our classrooms shows many are too noisy and children can have difficulty hearing, which affects their ability to learn,” says Karen Pullar, Secretary to the Oticon Foundation.
“The Foundation hopes that in the long term the research grant to the School of Architecture will help with the development and production of cost effective acoustic solutions that can be available to schools across the country.”
The School of Architecture‘s research project aims to develop and test acoustic solutions to create classroom spaces that reduce the medical, social and language issues that affect the ability to learn.
The acoustic prototypes are expected to be ready to test next term.
The Oticon Foundation in New Zealand was established in October 1976. It is a charitable trust of Oticon New Zealand Limited and aims to improve the lives of the hearing impaired in New Zealand through communication and knowledge. It is committed to finding better solutions to hearing loss and strives to increase public awareness and understanding of hearing impairment.
21 September 2011
Victoria University students are putting the finishing touches on their solar powered bach in Washington DC today as they compete in the US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011.
The Victoria University team is the first finalist ever from the Southern Hemisphere in a prestigious and highly anticipated international competition. The Solar Decathlon challenges university teams from around the world to design, build and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient and attractive.
Teams have been working 24 hour days on the National Mall‘s West Potomac Park and are racing against the clock to have their houses finished by 7pm on September 20 (11am September 21, New Zealand time).
The Victoria team is a long way from their support network at home but they were joined by a group of students and staff from Fanshawe College in London, Ontario. The Canadian group travelled down to DC to lend a hand with the assembly of the house and provide a North American insight.
The team‘s entry—the Meridian First Light house—was assembled on Wellington‘s waterfront earlier this year to a fantastic public response. The team, led by students from Victoria‘s School of Architecture say the practice run in New Zealand gave them a real edge.
Team member Nick Officer says: “It‘s been incredibly hard work over here but having done it once before has been a huge help, the team is working well together to get things done quickly.”
There have been a few major differences between the build in New Zealand and the US mostly due to the competition itself.
“The biggest difference of course is we now have 18 other teams building their houses around us. The first few days were tricky with trucks lined up to come on site but now there is a real community feeling amongst the teams with tools and materials shared when needed.”
After assembly is complete the US public will see what makes New Zealand unique when they tour through the Meridian First Light house inspired by the classic Kiwi bach.
29 August 2011
The team of Victoria architecture students taking on the world has headed to the US to compete in the 2011 US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.
The team is the first ever from the Southern Hemisphere to make the finals of the prestigious international competition, which takes place over 21 days in September and October.
The competition challenges university teams from around the world to design, build and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient and attractive. The Victoria team will compete against university teams from the US, Canada, China and Belgium.
Their solar-powered bach—the Meridian First Light house—is already in Washington DC. The team will assemble the house in less than seven days on the National Mall‘s West Potomac Park before competing in a series of ten contests.
The project has been supported by a great many sponsors, the Victoria University Foundation, the Victoria Research Trust, the School of Architecture and numerous staff from throughout the University.
7 July 2011
A solar-powered bach designed and built by Victoria University students began its four-week journey to the US from Tauranga last Thursday.
The Meridian First Light house is Victoria University’s entry into the US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011 which takes place in Washington DC this September and October. The team is the first finalist ever from the Southern Hemisphere in the prestigious and highly anticipated international competition.
The Solar Decathlon competition challenges university teams from around the world to design, build and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient and attractive.
"This is a huge milestone for us," says Ben Jagersma, one of the original four students involved in the project. "We’re all really looking forward to the competition and it‘s exciting for our house to finally be heading to the US. Next stop Washington.”
The house was recently assembled on Wellington‘s waterfront to a fantastic public response. More than 20,000 people toured through the house over the 18-day opening period.
“We got to practice assembling the house ahead of the competition, which was great, and we had the opportunity to make a few adjustments too. This ‘dress rehearsal’ also helped prepare for some of the challenges in the competition such as hosting a dinner party or conducting tours of the house.
The competition attracts over 300,000 visitors in Washington DC so we‘ve got to get it right.”
The house was packed up and transported by Mainfreight from Wellington to Tauranga.
The student team will join the house in Washington where they will assemble the solar bach on the National Mall‘s West Potomac Park in just seven days.
9 May 2011
The innovative solar-powered bach designed and built by Victoria University students is now on display at Frank Kitts Park.
The public can view the Meridian First Light house-a modern take on the Kiwi bach-until 24 May, and the student team will be running public tours to showcase the solar technology.
The team, led by students from Victoria's School of Architecture, is one of only 20 finalists in the 2011 US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon competition, which takes place in Washington DC this September.
After the public exhibition, the house will be packed up and shipped to the US for the competition.
Meridian First Light house public open days
7 to 24 May Weekdays
12-4pm Weekends 10am to 5.30pm
28 April 2011
A Kiwi bach powered entirely by the sun's rays has attracted the attention of New Zealand's largest state owned electricity generator.
A team of students from Victoria University is designing and building a solar powered house to take part in the US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon in Washington DC this October. The team is the first ever from the Southern Hemisphere to be selected for one of the most prestigious and highly anticipated international design competitions.
It was this focus on creating a sustainable net zero energy home that attracted the interest of New Zealand energy company Meridian Energy, who has since come on board as the project's principal sponsor.
"We're 100 percent committed to renewables and have demonstrated this with our investments in New Zealand and offshore. With our interest in solar power this project was a natural fit with us," says Guy Waipara, Meridian's General Manager, External Relations.
"In addition, it's great for us to be involved in supporting some of New Zealand's top young talent."
Meridian has a real interest in sustainable building and led the way with its new Wellington office which is New Zealand's first purpose-built 'green' office building.
Architecture student Nick Officer says the Victoria team is delighted to have energy experts from Meridian helping out with the project. "Everyone here is very excited to be working with Meridian not least because the company is just as invested in sustainable, renewable energy and building as we are."
The newly built solar powered bach will now be known as the Meridian First Light house.
The public will have a chance to view the Meridian First Light house for themselves when it is on display at Frank Kitts Park on the Wellington Waterfront from May 7-24. The student team will also be running public tours to showcase the solar technology used.
11 April 2011
The changes needed before New Zealand is using its fair share of the earth's resources are far greater than most people realise say two Victoria University sustainability researchers.
Robert and Brenda Vale, professors at Victoria University's School of Architecture, are partway through a three-year research project exploring what New Zealand would be like if communities and individuals reduced their footprint to a sustainable level. The research is funded by the Ministry of Science and Innovation.
The Vales use an internationally accepted technique called The Ecological Footprint, which measures the area of productive land and water the population needs to maintain its activities and absorb waste in a sustainable way. At current population levels, each person in the world needs 1.8 hectares.
Currently, New Zealanders use about five hectares each, Americans between eight and nine, Chinese around two and people in many other countries, like Indonesia and Vietnam, just one.
The Vales will be working with communities in Central Otago and Manukau to explore scenarios for reducing resource use, gauge attitudes and discuss how changes might be implemented.
But, they say, a study carried out by Carmeny Field, a Masters student working with them, has highlighted some of the changes that might be needed in the future. Among other things, she looked at the transport footprint of people living in Wellington in the 1950s compared to today's residents.
Professor Brenda Vale says the level of mobility people now expect to have is taxing on resources.
"Back in the 50s, people didn't travel much. They didn't fly, only used their car at the weekends and mostly walked, cycled and used public transport.
"And the interesting thing is that most of those interviewed thought life was pretty good back then. Having more doesn't necessarily make us better off."
Professor Vale says much more is needed than a bit of "eco bling". "People think they can put a rainwater tank on their roof or install solar heating and then carry on their lifestyle as normal, but the changes required are much more far reaching than that."
Professor Robert Vale says New Zealand needs more visionary thinking.
"China, for example, is much further ahead than us in its thinking. They are connecting their cities with a network of high speed electric trains and building a high speed link to Europe, which will reduce the need to fly.
"It is more difficult for New Zealand because we are small and geographically isolated, but there is plenty we could do such as feeding ourselves, generating our own power and growing bio fuels. People aren't thinking long term and they need to be."
The Vales are using a ration book concept to get study participants thinking about the fair earth share principle.
"We're trying to get the idea across that there are limits and people will have to make choices in the future. We're not saying you can't drive or fly, but if you choose those activities, you'll need to reduce your footprint in other ways."
Ultimately the Vales aim to produce a tool that agencies can use to consult with communities about moving towards more equitable resource use.
The Vales have been researching and writing about sustainability for many years. They co-authored The Autonomous House and, in 2009, Time to Eat the Dog, a guide to sustainable living that showed the paw print of a large pet dog is twice that of a Land Cruiser driven 10,000 kilometres a year.
Professor Robert Vale says pet owners' outrage at the book's findings showed many people are not yet willing to debate resource allocation.
"People are still being told they can have everything. The most important thing is to realise that we have to make changes, then we can start talking about how to do that."
21 February 2011
Wool insulation may be commonplace in New Zealand, but for a team taking a solar powered house to a competition in the US, this novel approach will definitely need explaining.
A team of Victoria University students will be taking part in the US Department of Energy's prestigious global design competition, the Solar Decathlon, by designing, building and operating an attractive, affordable, net zero energy house, powered entirely from solar energy.
Kiwi company Eco Insulation, has developed a new wool insulation product to meet the high standards required for the competition. The house will be insulated by four layers of wool insulation which gives the house nearly three times greater efficiency than the New Zealand building codes require.
Using wool as insulation is vitally unheard of in the US and the team will be working hard to educate those who come to the competition that wool is a safe, durable and healthy alternative.
"This is a great opportunity to show the rest of the world what Kiwis can achieve. Let's show them what we're made of," says Eco Insulation's Hamish Holder.
Team member Nick Officer agrees the competition is an excellent opportunity to showcase New Zealand innovation and sustainable options.
"Eco Wool is a great fit for the First Light house, after all what could be a more fitting way to prove New Zealand's point of difference than using wool insulation."
The Victoria team, made up of almost 40 students from throughout the university supervised by staff and industry partners who are donating their time to the project, will compete in the 21 day competition during September in Washington DC.
The New Zealand public will have the chance to see the First Light house in action when it is on display during May at Frank Kitts Park before being shipped to the US.
14 February 2011
The First Light house, designed by a team from Victoria University, is doing more than taking a solar powered house to the United States for the US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011; it's helping to build relationships with overseas institutions.
Construction on the First Light house is due to begin any day now, with students and industry supporters ready to start the build, but the Victoria University team will have some overseas help as well.
Three Canadian Architectural Technology students from Fanshawe College in London, Ontario, have made the trip over to New Zealand to help build the First Light house. The students will stay in Wellington for three months to help with construction and assembly of the house in New Zealand. They will also join the Victoria team in the United States in September to help with the assembly period during the competition.
The idea started with a casual email exchange between two sisters living in different countries—one in New Zealand, one in Canada. Now, many months later, a trio of Canadian students have left behind sub-zero temperatures and mountains of snow to discover some real solar power.
Shaun Haskett remembers the first day of his 2010 communications class.
"The teacher told us there might be a trip to New Zealand connected to this class", he explains. "I was surprised, and really interested."
He had just finished an eight month co-op term with PCL, one of Canada's premier construction companies, and was back for the sixth and final semester of his programme.
He was so interested that he volunteered that first day. A few weeks later, his classmate and roommate, Josh Hoggard, was talked into joining the team. Friend and fellow PCL co-op student Spencer Marcolini completed the group.
The students are volunteering their time to the project and are being assisted with the trip by an International Scholarship from the Government of Ontario, and generous grants from PCL.
The group arrived safely in Wellington and have had some time to get to know the city and see a little more of New Zealand before starting work on the build.
The house will be constructed in a warehouse supplied by Wellington International Airport Ltd in Lyall Bay before being assembled at Frank Kitts Park in April and May. The house will then begin its journey to the United States to compete against 19 other university teams from around the world.
7 February 2011
A virtual walk-through of New Zealand's entry to the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011 showcasing solar innovation has been unveiled.
A team from Victoria University is building a totally solar powered Kiwi bach as their entry into the U.S. based competition. Last week was the public's first chance to see what the house, called First Light, will look like and how it will work ahead of the final product being on display in Wellington before it is shipped to the U.S. for the competition.
The virtual walk-through can be viewed.
The Solar Decathlon competition challenges student teams to design, build and operate an attractive, affordable, net zero energy house, powered entirely from solar energy. The Victoria University team will be one of 20 teams competing and is the only entry ever from the Southern Hemisphere to reach the finals.
Led by Victoria's School of Architecture, the team is made up of almost 40 students from throughout the university, all supervised by staff and industry partners who are donating their time to the project. The public will have the chance to see the technology in action at Wellington waterfront when the First Light House is on display during April and May.
31st January 2011
Work from Associate Professor Daniel K. Brown, Programme Leader Interior Architecture, was exhibited during the Venice Architecture Biennale last year.
Brown exhibited his work, most of which had occurred in Rome, in the Italian Pavilion of the 12th International Architecture Exhibition, this year entitled People meet in architecture. His exhibit included a retrospective of collaborative works with American artist Kristin Jones. A panel discussion on this work was held on the final day, moderated by architect and curator Luca Molinari, with art director Carlo Ducci, sculptor Barnaby Evans (WaterFire), Lisa Lowenstein, and special guests.
Brown also presented a sample of his new work Fluviale which he has been designing with Victoria postgraduate student Johann Nortje.
"It was originally conceived as a 2010 finale event, to interpret and respond to the theme of the Italian Pavilion, 'AILATI. Reflections of the Future', by literally projecting reflections of the canals upon the architecture of Venice," says Brown.
"However, because of the rains and flooding in Venice all November, it was moved indoors for the final day."
Fluviale is likely to be shown outdoors in full over three days next June as part of the opening ceremonies of the 2011 Venice Fine Arts Biennale, which occurs on alternate years to the Architecture Biennale.
The Venice Architecture Biennale was established in 1895 and is now recognised as the longest running cultural event of its kind, attracting hundreds of thousands of people to each event, and providing exhibitors with international networking and promotional opportunities. The 2010 event had a record attendance of more than 170,000 visitors over 12 weeks from 29 August to 21 November.
Fear of being first scares homeowners off sustainability innovations
14 January 2011
Homeowners' reluctance to adopt proven sustainability innovations often results from an exaggerated view of the risks involved, according to research carried out at Victoria University.
PhD graduate Dr Lauren Christie combined her skills in building science and psychology in a three-year project that investigated why homeowners say they value innovations like solar water heating panels and double glazing, but aren't prepared to pay full price for them.
Dr Christie carried out a survey and conducted in-depth interviews, discovering that, for many people, the risks outweigh the benefits of adopting sustainability technologies.
Those risks include the upfront payment required and skepticism that the technology would deliver what it promised.
"A lot of people are wary of the capital cost of the technologies and don't believe it's money they will get back," says Dr Christie.
"Some also reject the improvements because they don't think they are suitable for their house."
But one of the greatest barriers highlighted in the research is people not wanting to be seen to be different.
"The group of homeowners I was studying—people who say they want sustainability innovations but aren't buying them—were affected by other people's perceptions of them. They didn't want to be first. There is a lot of seemingly irrational behaviour going on with people supporting the availability of sustainability innovations and knowing their benefits, but not being prepared to buy them."
Dr Christie's research confirmed that having energy efficient technologies installed in a house is currently not valued in the real estate market.
She found that while online ads, which have more space, sometimes market homes as having sustainability innovations, the words are usually dropped in the shorter printed version.
Dr Christie says communication around sustainability innovations for houses needs to be reframed.
"People already have plenty of information about these innovations and are put off by the complexity of the issue and the number of choices. They don't need more information and they don't need apocalyptic language about what will happen if they don't do it."
She says more effective strategies include implementing schemes that offer people 'loans' to pay for sustainability technologies with repayments coming from the savings they make.
Other possible initiatives are providing proven default options to simplify the purchase decision and encouraging the use of display meters in homes to make energy savings visible.
Dr Christie says sustainability innovations also need to become a norm in society to reduce the perceived social risk of early adoption.
"In this area, people are more likely to be influenced by what families, neighbours and colleagues do—people who they see as being similar to themselves—rather than having high profile individuals endorse sustainability. Programmes to convert whole neighbourhoods at a time could be an effective way of encouraging uptake."
Dr Christie, who works as a consultant in the area of improving uptake of sustainability innovations, was supervised by Dr Michael Donn from Victoria University and Dr Darren Walton from the Health Sponsorship Council during her PhD research.