Urban Eco

By Graham Hepburn

Raymond Q’s Takapuna home is testament to how sustainable building is becoming more mainstream in
New Zealand.
And that change in mind-set has been helped in no small part by the home’s designer, Johann Bernhardt, who has recently released a comprehensive book on sustainable building, A Deeper Shade of Green, after years of designing energy efficient and environmentally friendly homes.
Not only has Johann, a Berlin-trained architect, been designing eco-friendly homes, he has also been running the Auckland office of the Building Biology and Ecology Institute, which researches, compiles and disseminates information on healthy and environmentally friendly building and living. The institute has a comprehensive directory of building solutions and services.

While Johann is a friend of Raymond’s, that didn’t mean he was an automatic choice to design a home for Raymond and his partner, who had become tired of their traditional bungalow.
Raymond found their existing home cold and damp, causing him problems with allergies. His partner, originally from Germany, wasn’t used to homes without central heating. “He literally sat on the heater during winter,” says Raymond.
Raymond admits he was “a bit sceptical” about the idea of building an eco home, which conjured up images of “a mud brick house or growing grass on the roof”.
“I wanted something smart and contemporary that would suit my interest in art and design.”
When Johann reassured him he could have that and a home that would be healthy and energy efficient, the partnership began on the house that was finished about two years ago.

Because Raymond, a flight attendant, and his partner travel a lot, he also wanted a home that was low maintenance. Budget was an issue, too, and so was maximising the harbour views.

To create that contemporary look and to resist sea spray, COLORSTEEL® cladding was a natural choice. As well as being cost-effective and low-maintenance, it gives the home a modern look in combination with Titan board.  
“That was my choice right from the beginning in my first hand-drawn sketch,” says Johann. “I like the contrast in textures between the 3-D of the COLORSTEEL® 
and the flat surface
of the
Titan board.”

A major constraint on Johann’s design was the tight site – Raymond subdivided land around his existing bungalow to build on. And the tight budget meant that desirable eco features such as a solar panel and dealing with storm water on site were postponed, with the initial focus on less costly factors such as good passive solar design.

With the help of computer modeling, Johann showed Raymond how the sun would come into the various rooms in the house through the day and the seasons.
“I think the way Johann designed the windows works really well with the way the sun moves around the house,” says Raymond.
Hand-painted concrete floors soak up heat from the sun pouring through the windows and release it at night. To ensure that heat is not lost, polyester insulation above building code requirements was fitted as well as double glazing on the south, west and east faces of the house. The double glazing allows Raymond to have large windows on the western side of the house so that he can enjoy the harbour views, city skyline and sunsets over the Waitakeres from his first floor lounge.  A unique feature is the bridge from this lounge to a set of full-height sliding windows, which creates a void in this part of the house that allows warmth from the underfloor heating at ground level to circulate throughout the house.
Bamboo flooring on the first floor is another sustainable feature as is the NZ plantation grown hardwood used in the deck on the northern side of the house that connects the home to the self-contained studio.
Because of Raymond’s allergies, low or non-toxic building materials and paints have been used where possible.
Neither Johann nor Raymond is a fan of hallways so the home has been designed to incorporate passageways through the living spaces. This optimises space and makes the home easier to heat and light.
“I can create a really nice atmosphere in the whole house by using just four energy saving lightbulbs,” says Raymond.
And the power bill in his new home during winter is about $150 a month compared to the $500 a month he used to spend on electricity and gas in his old home.
One indulgence Raymond did allow himself was a rooftop terrace for outdoor dining and admiring the view - although it again allows him to create more living space on a limited site. And with Johann elevating the southern wing, windows have been added up here to allow sun into rooms on the south side of the house.   The stairwell on the opposite side of the house is also elevated to allow light into it and it is partially clad in Titan board to create a striking vertical element. A pair of porthole windows heightens the effect.
While Raymond might have been doubtful about the benefits of an eco home, he’s now a convert and something of an advocate for sustainable design.
In fact, one of the reasons he wanted a modern and dramatic-looking home – apart from his personal taste – was so that it would stir up interest in the community.
“I wanted a striking home to spread the message,” Raymond says. “My concept for this house is to create an apartment in the suburbs with a lot of eco features. It’s a good example to the younger generation that you can have an eco home but don’t have to compromise your lifestyle.”
And that’s exactly the message that Johann would like to get out. “The general idea about sustainable housing four or five years ago was that it had to be an earth house in the country but that’s starting to change now because a lot of attractive houses have been developed.”
He’s also had a lot of positive feedback about his book, which he hopes will point law-makers, councils, manufacturers, architects and builders down the right path at a time when global warming and soaring energy prices are becoming huge concerns.
“A lot of people have said to me that it is the right book at the right time.”
 While the advantages of building a sustainable home are obvious, Johann says the concept has taken a long time to get traction with the public, who often take a short-term view about their homes.
“A sustainable home beats a conventional home hands-down in terms of costs during the life cycle of the home,” he says. “Unfortunately, the problem for New Zealand is that people here sell very often and move very often so they tend not to plan for the long term.” 
Maybe that attitude will change with people like Raymond showing that a sustainable home can be practical, stylish, healthy - and good for the planet.

Johann Bernhardt

The director of Bernhardt Architecture, Johann Bernhardt is passionate about creating healthy, warm homes that are energy efficient and environmentally friendly. He took a year off his design practice to edit his book, A Deeper Shade of Green, which was published this year and looks at every facet of sustainable building. He says, “Hopefully, with this book people will have more information and be able to make better decisions.”
His firm has been designing eco homes for many years, and he has also been running the Auckland office of the Building Biology and Ecology Institute, which researches, compiles and disseminates information on healthy and environmentally friendly building and living. Johann has an architect’s degree from Technical University Berlin, a PhD in urban development from Paris University VIII, and a lifelong interest in sustainability.

Architectural Design:
Johann Bernhardt,
Bernhardt Architecture,
Telephone: 09 376 6767

Drawings: Eddie van Uden,
Equinox Design,
Telephone: 09 815 3838

Builder: Inger Builders,
Telephone: 09 424 8833.

Cladding: COLORSTEEL® ENDURA™ New Denim Blue

Roofing and cladding installer:
Slater Roofing & Spouting,
Telephone: 09 424 1591.

Peter Lawrence