Have you ever considered just how unsustainable traditionally built buildings are? They are responsible for up to 35% of greenhouse gas emission, they consume up to 70% of municipal water and, 30% of all landfill waste is related to construction and demolition activities. It is clear that we need to build better but how can we achieve this and what would this resemble? Earthsong Eco-Neighbourhood is a perfect example of how this can be done for ENTIRE communities.
Located in Auckland, New Zealand, this community consists of 32 homes housing 60 residents on 3 acres of land. The neighbourhood was built with the relentless goal to design and construct a cohesive neighbourhood whose layout, buildings, and services demonstrate the highest practical standards of sustainable human settlement. Many features of the neighbourhood exemplify a model of socially and environmentally sustainable urban living.
Any construction project is enormously disruptive to the existing environment, Earthsong was built and designed to minimise this however possible and measures were taken to ensure that the finished neighbourhood has an equal or better environmental footprint than the existing site. The neighbourhood layout was carefully planned to maintain the existing quality of the site and to build to prioritize the environment. Buildings and paths were designed to fit the shape of the land to reduce excavation. Efforts were taken to save all healthy trees remaining from the original neglected apple orchard.
A comprehensive site design includes productive and edible landscape which consists of native bushes, orchard areas, fruit trees, organic gardens and composting areas. Earthsong was truly designed to accommodate nature and people. Vehicles are parked at the edge of the site and homes are connected by a network of paths. In addition, their ideal location allows community members to walk to nearby stores, community facilities, public transport, schools and more. Waterless composting toilets are available for community members to use and the bio-soil it produces is used as fertilizer for non-edible plants. The compost toilet saves around 600 liters of water each month and restrains valuable nutrients to replenish the soil.
All buildings on the property are designed for energy efficiency and conservation. The concrete floors and the rammed earth walls store heat and are well insulated which reduced electricity consumption. The buildings themselves are solar collectors, oriented towards the sun to take full advantage of the naturally produced energy. In the summer the houses are shielded from the sun using pergolas (efficient shading system) while allowing the winter rays to hit the houses at a lower angle which maximises winter sunlight intake. This system naturally warms during the winter and cools during the summer. Each rooftop is equipped with solar panels that use the energy it produces for household water heating. The neighbourhood requires only one electrical line and focuses on conservation. These all contribute to homes that require much less heating and cooling than traditional homes with some household heating and electrical bills to be as low as 30 dollars (New Zealand) during the winter months.
In addition, a well thought out water management results in a total water usage per household to be less than two-thirds of a standard house. Half of Earthsong’s water consumption is supplied by rainwater collection on site. In addition, surface runoff and overflow water are naturally filtered through planted swale, a type of grass which encourages maximum soakage before discharging into a large pond. Earthsong also has limited hard surfaces such as asphalt which increases rainwater seepage into the soil.
The sustainably built buildings include complete individual 1 bedroom to 4-bedroom homes, a common house which provides shared spaces such as a sitting room, kids’ and teens’ room, guest room, quiet room and a shared laundry area. The large kitchen and dining/meeting hall allow for 5 cooks to work in unison to feed up to 100 people at once. The combination of individual housing and common house increases social integration by balancing the needs for privacy and ownership of their own space while providing a strong sense of belonging, community, company, and safety.
“Like a healthy organism with healthy organs made up of healthy cells, sustainability needs to operate at all levels: the individual, the household, the neighbourhood, the village, and city. It is increasingly apparent that we are all part of one vast, complex organism that is our planet, and eco-neighbourhoods and communities offer fertile environments to re-learn the skills of interdependence and co-operation that will contribute to the health of our beautiful earth home”, Robin Allision, initiator, and Development Coordinator of Earthsong Eco-Neighbourhood.
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