New Zealand’s first Passive House community facility—and it stands in a tiny rural community of a few hundred people. How did this bold project get made by a small council at the furthest end of the motu? Sustainable Engineering talked to the people involved in the rebuild of the Luggate Memorial Hall, seeking insights that might help other non-residential projects get built to the Passive House standard.
There was thorough preparation of the ground for this project, with years of engagement with the council decision makers and the community to increase awareness of Passive House benefits. Emma Osmundsen, who spearheaded the widespread adoption of Passive House social housing in the UK city of Exeter, was a keynote speaker at the SPPHC in 2017. The advocacy work Emma also did on that trip included a meeting with Queenstown Lakes District Council (QLDC) officials. Sian Taylor (Team Green Architects) participated in the round table too, along with Elrond Burrell (VIA architecture), who organised this and other meetings. The subsequent dialogue led to the Council contracting Elrond to prepare a first concept design and a Passive House feasibility study, which helped inform the Council’s business case. Elrond consulted to the Council through 2019-2020, offering support on the client side.
“The feasibility study showed QLDC that Passive House was not that difficult for the community hall to achieve. It also highlighted the benefits—being able to use it all year round and very low running costs. The old hall couldn’t be used for part of the year as it was too cold and expensive to heat,” says Elrond.
The project also highlights the supreme worth of an internal champion. Here that came in the form of QLDC property director Richard Pope (who already knew about Passive House and was interested in building a home for himself to the certified standard) and Paul Carter, then the property strategy adviser. They stuck their necks out according to the design team, arguing the case for certification inside the council. That was all the more important given there were consultants on the client side who were sceptical of the value of Passive House.
Thirdly, the cohesive, supportive nature of the design team and their shared commitment to a successful outcome made all the difference, according to the Passive House designer Jessica Eyers. (This was a high-profile project literally under her nose: Jessica can see the new hall from the upstairs windows of her own certified Passive House home.) Jessica first approached her friend Paul Jaquin, a structural engineer at WSP and the two of them resolved to pull together a team to submit a tender.
“I could see it would be important to have someone solely focused on the Passive House design,” Jessica says. “I didn’t want to try and undertake the architecture as well! I’ve been collaborating with Anne Salmond [Salmond Architecture] for about 16 years and she was definitely my first choice for this project. She’s a great architect and gutsy, I respect her hugely.”
Mechanical services engineer Michael Fortune also played a key role. He’d previously worked for WSP in the UK, gaining Passive House experience on larger projects. Filling out the dream team was the council’s project manager, Jane George, whose people skills were worthy of a police negotiator, according to Jessica.
It was a dream team by all accounts. “Passive House is so much easier when everyone is on board,” reflects Jessica. “We were all absolutely committed to making it work and doing it together. It was a very positive environment to work in, we developed a lot of trust in each other.”
The contractor, Breen, is a big company in this southern part of the world, working on projects between central Otago and Dunedin. They were awesome, says Jessica. “They had it tough, between Covid and the tight budget but they went above and beyond. It made such a difference to have a project manager and a site manager who were utterly passionate about this building.
“What also helped was a bunch of Breen guys doing the certified Passive House tradesperson course before the job started. They were really into it, right at the site level.”
Luggate Memorial Hall was Breen’s first certified Passive House project but they already had experience with high-performance buildings and are getting a name for Passive House and Low Energy Buildings according to Jessica. They are currently working on another QLDC project, also designed by Anne Salmond.