Something Old Something New

Graeme North Eco Architecture

Sustainability is not a new concept. Using resources so that the needs of future generations are protected is historically embodied in at least some parts of many cultures. The global environmental consciousness that we now have is arguably a relatively recent notion. The real concern is not the realisation of our environmental degradation, but, what are we doing about ensuring sustainability as we head towards a point of no return?
The short answer is "a lot" or "very little" depending on where you look.

ºPracticing eco architecture is not academic theorising - indeed it leaves very little time for such indulgences says Graeme North who leads by example.
As a practitioner of eco architecture he recognises that the ideal cannot always be achieved, but finds most clients are prepared to go at least part way down the road towards more sustainable practices. Graeme encapsulates it well by saying, “Don’t let the perfect spoil the good”.

New Zealand’s driving rain and high earthquake risk pose particular challenges to earth building. Techniques in New Zealand have to adapt to the climatic and weather conditions, in particular the relatively high rainfall that is often wind driven horizontally onto buildings.
With these conditions Graeme combines many materials not the least of which is a New Zealand icon, corrugated iron. “I like to use it in light weight for roofs as a reliable economical solution, and, particularly in extreme conditions, for a weathertight wall cladding.”  An example of the latter is using it as a rainscreen over thick strawbale walls with earth plaster on the inner
surface. The iron ensures the straw will stay dry.

Graeme‘s passion for eco architecture began some 30 years ago and since then he has completed over 100 buildings using many different techniques and materials. Many have been built, using rammed earth, mud brick, pressed earth brick, cob, in-situ adobe, untreated timber, strawbale and a variety of other non-toxic materials.

His philosophy: "Good, well designed buildings enhance and enrich their occupant’s activities and lives and promotes their well-being and health; they make a positive contribution to the urban fabric or rural landscape; they sustain and protect the environment and minimise the impact of man’s activities; and they provide an opportunity for sound investment. Indifferent buildings, on the other hand, frustrate and inhibit their occupant’s activities and impoverish their lives; they adversely affect their occupants’ health and demean the spirit…"

With this objective in mind Graeme North has devoted his life to researching many forms of eco and earthern buildings world wide. This knowledge has been combined with his love of the environment and his determination to create “livingscapes” He supports the Permaculture philosophy of growing  food as an integral part of our houses and landscapes. It is a crucial environmental strategy and Graeme is experimenting with directly growing parts of buildings with appropriate plants and combining these with biologically safe waste disposal systems.
New Zealand has managed to develop what is believed to be the world’s first comprehensive set of building standards that are consistent with a national performance based building code.

These new Standards are based on research, testing and service experience of earth buildings and specifically address questions of durability and earthquake resistance.

There is now a general awareness that more environmentally gentle building methods are available and  now that New Zealand Standards are available, earth takes its place alongside timber, steel, cement and concrete masonry as a "normal" building material.

Graeme believes a lack of industry training is a real impediment to the growth of earth building in NZ. There is only a handful of professional designers, both architectural and engineering, who are very familiar with earth building. The indications are that the public has an excellent awareness that earth is a viable option and a very good building material. The down side is a lack of experienced builders.

Graeme’s envolvement and contribution in promoting the use of eco architecture has been enormous. He is chairman of the Standards New Zealand (SNZ) technical committee for “earth building” who produced the first set of standards of this nature in the world. He was the inaugural chairman of the Earth Building Association of New Zealand Inc. and has written many articles on the subject including straw bale construction for BRANZ.

Over the last decade Graeme has won many major awards for his work which range from investigating earth building in the USA and Australia to being an invited guest speaker to the 2001 Eco Conference in San Franciso.

Without doubt Graeme North is a man with a passion for architecture which is environmentally sensitive and sustainable. For further information on eco-architecture please visit his website.

Graeme North
B.Arch, Dip.Permaculture, ANZIA
Registered Architect
18 Neville Street, Warkworth, New Zealand
tel/fax +64 09 4259305