The New Zealand team from Victoria University of Wellington is the first-ever finalist from the Southern Hemisphere in the US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon. The team is led by students from Victoria’s School of Architecture and is made up of students from a range of disciplines across the university. New Zealand is the first country in the world to see the light each day, this gave the house its name— First Light.
The Meridian First Light house was inspired by the traditional Kiwi bach – a New Zealand holiday home. The design reflects the relaxed New Zealand lifestyle where socializing and a connection with the outdoors are central to living. The heart of the design is the glazed central section which functions as a bridge between the natural environment and the indoors.
Decking runs around the house and also right through the centre, allowing occupants to effectively live outside during summer and bringing a sense of the outdoors inside during the colder months. A triple glazed skylight and large bi-fold doors illuminate the central section of the house.
The bach influence also informed how space was used – the house has been designed to create multi-functional rooms while keeping practical concerns, such as storage, in mind. The layout provides functional, flexible social spaces, which can be transformed to suit the owner.
The materials used in the house were chosen to lend strength, quality and integrity to the structure and the aesthetics of the house. A combination of timbers have been used including recycled New Zealand native Rimu along the interior rear wall and sustainably sourced Pinus radiata for the substantial decking. LVL and plywood were used for the walls and floors due to their stability and resistance to becoming deformed while Glulam beams and posts were used to support the canopy.
The exterior cladding and timber canopy are made from Western Red Cedar which is naturally durable, light weight and stable in a variety of climates. The canopy is a key feature of the design, sitting above the water proof layer it gives the house style and aesthetic interest and is also functional. The canopy provides independent support for the 6 kW solar array consisting of 28 polycrystalline photovoltaic panels and 40 evacuated tube solar collectors. Essentially creating a second roof means the Butynol membrane roof below remains uncompromised by the supports for the PV panels. In the warmer seasons when the sun is high the canopy also provides shade to the large windows below.
The house’s insulation material makes the most of an abundant renewable New Zealand resource. The entire house is insulated by a minimum of 240mm of recycled sheep’s wool insulation. This gives the house an R-value of 6 – almost three times greater than the New Zealand building code requires. The Meridian First Light house has been designed to use less than one third of the energy of a typical New Zealand home. Design principles to minimize energy use have been incorporated into the design to allow for minimal reliance on mechanical heating and cooling, which results in a reduced need for energy overall.
The 50mm concrete slab flooring acts as a mass to stabilize the internal temperature, while large triple glazed windows face South in the Northern hemisphere and North in NZ. Coming from the other side of the world meant the house needed to be designed with transport and quick assembly in mind. The Meridian First Light house was prefabricated and is made up of six independent modules that can be quickly assembled using a crane. This level of prefabrication allowed the team to fit out the modules with finishes, fixtures, plumbing, electrical, and mechanical equipment which makes for a simple and fast connection onsite.
The Victoria University team has constructed their house and assembled it on the waterfront in Wellington as a practice run to the competition later this year. They have had a tremendous response from the New Zealand public and are looking forward to seeing the other entries in Washington.
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