For Earth and Neighbourhood – Using natural building materials in community-scale construction (Robin Allison)

Presented by Robin Allison

Session Description

Is it possible to use sustainable building materials in cohousing and still stay affordable? Does the group consensus process inevitably lead to compromises in green building decisions, or can it enable more courageous choices than a single household would consider? How much risk should a cohousing group take in trying less standard construction methods in order to build green?

These and other conundrums were faced by Earthsong Eco-Neighbourhood, a 32-home cohousing community in Auckland, New Zealand. A fundamental part of our vision was to build to the “highest practical standards of sustainable human settlement”. The rammed earth walls, solid timbers, natural oils and paints and other sustainable materials have created a beautiful and healthy neighbourhood.

However natural building materials are more typically used by owner-builders who are willing to experiment and live with the consequences. Applying these same materials and systems to higher density multi-unit developments built by contractors in a profit-driven environment raises different issues and challenges.

We need to make buildings that foster the health and well-being of both the people who occupy them and the global ecosystems of which they are part. We offer our mistakes, successes and learnings in the hope of encouraging the wider use of natural building materials and systems in cohousing projects.

About the Presenter

Robin Allison ran her own sustainable architecture practise before founding Earthsong Eco-Neighbourhood, New Zealand's first cohousing neighbourhood. Earthsong demonstrates leading-edge sustainable design with intensive community involvement, and was a finalist in 2009 in both the World Habitat Awards and UN Habitat Awards. As the Development Coordinator, she drove the development process from inception to completion of construction. She now consults, runs workshops and supports other community projects throughout New Zealand.