Monday, September 27, 2010

Rammed Earth in Aotearoa / New Zealand

UKU is a research project which is focused in the immediate sense on developing an appropriate housing solution for rural Māori communities, but in the longer term on affordable, appropriate construction technologies for third world countries. At present a large proportion of rural Maori are living in sub-standard and overcrowded living conditions. Conventional housing solutions are not appropriate for many rural Maori communities due to the financial aspects (cost, maintenance issues), practical issues (transport of materials, isolated location, lack of infrastructure) and legal issues (multiply owned land and Maori land title).

In 1994 the UKU concept was conceived by Dr Kepa Morgan of Ngāti Pikiao to build houses using flax-fibre reinforced earth. Through the support and involvement of research organisations and businesses like Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga, the Foundation for Research Science and Technology, Te Runanga O Ngāti Pikiao, the Forest Research Institute, the University of Auckland, Golden Bay Cement and Pacific Steel, the UKU project has developed and refined the UKU building method, identified optimum mixtures, developed and built a portable flax decortication device, built two single room (6X6 metre) dwellings and a two bedroom 90m2 house on Māori land. The second UKU dwelling is due to be completed in 2010 in Ahipara, Te Tai Tokerau (the Far North).

The research has been conducted in partnership with Māori individuals representing various hapu (sub-tribes) around the North Island. Their input has been used to identify the obstacles to housing faced by rural Māori, the available local resources, and the desirable aspects of a suitable housing solution.

Social acceptance has been assessed with a positive response from the groups involved in the research to the experience of living in earth houses. The two single room dwellings built for this purpose were initially designated as a mower shed and a laundry/storage room. They were subsequently used as a music / arts room and a wharepuni (sleeping area) for the kaumatua (elders) respectively. Both groups have indicated a desire to build more structures using the UKU method.

The University of Auckland is conducting on-going research into the thermal and seismic performance of the UKU wall panels and houses as a whole. The test results are used to determine the strength and other characteristics of the earth material so that UKU structures can be designed, consented and built.

The UKU research team works with the rural Maori communities to empower and train up locals to build using the UKU method. Local materials are sourced and processed locally as far as is practical. One of the key measures of success for the UKU research is the practical benefit of the research to the target end-users; rural Māori communities. As a result working with rural Māori communities is prioritised, supporting them through the design and consenting processes, and involving these communities as active participants building houses on Māori land.

Next we will catch up with the engineer/ builder on this project, John Cheah  to get details on this ongoing project.

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