Via Inhabitat, 24-09-2011

This year’s Solar Decathlon home design competition saw many fresh takes on the solar-powered prefab home, but Team New Zealand stood out from the pack with its elegant, light-filled, wood clad home. Built by students from the Victoria University of Wellington, the beach house inspired First Light home has a breezy, open feel with the invigorating smell of freshly cut cedar planks emanating throughout. Check out our exclusive photos of this seemingly basic but surprisingly innovative house, which is currently on display at the 2011 Solar Decathlon competition on the National Mall in Washington DC.


Several unique features set the house apart from the rest. Inspired by the traditional New Zealand holiday home, the “Kiwi bach”, socializing and a relationship with nature were of prime importance in the design process. The front and back bi-folding doors allow for plenty of natural light to enter. An overhanging roof provides ample shade on hot days while also adding protection when the doors are open, creating a seamless unification of the interior and exterior environments.

Between the front and back doors, the nucleus of the house revolves around an elegant concrete tabletop surrounded by stools and a small kitchen space. The kitchen area opens up to a shared living room with a convertible sofa bed on one side and a private area on the other which are divided by a self-contained study unit. The design keeps the house very open while also providing an option for refuge and intimate space.

For the initial stages of the project, only four students were involved. However, over two years, 26 students were primarily involved with many more contributing to specific attributes of the final product. Rather than sourcing from Ikea, Team New Zealand chose to do things from scratch. All of the house’s furnishings were custom designed by students from various departments at Victoria University. For instance, a light that sits over the kitchen table was inspired by traditional Maori patterns and was created by an industrial design student. The beds, tables, chairs, outdoor benches and landscaping all boast student designs as well.

Additionally, a feature unique to the First Light house is an innovative drying cupboard developed by LEAP Australasia Ltd. It is hidden away in a compartment located in the closet space off the bedroom. Rather than installing a dryer, the team chose a cupboard which functions by pumping solar-heated water through copper tubes and a heat exchanger that in turn dries clothes quickly.

Not only promoting energy efficiency, the students wanted the house to promote a lifestyle in sync with the natural environment. Landscaping was an important aspect of the design with planter bins filled with lush greenery at various levels around the perimeter of the house. Observing New Zealand’s landscape, the students also decided to take advantage of the country’s bustling sheep population. Instead of thinking of wool as a material solely used for sweaters, they decided it could prove useful as a form of insulation for the house. The 10 inches of recycled sheep’s wool from Eco Insulation surrounding the house provide it with a thermal resistance value (R-value) almost three times greater than usual. A feature common to many of the competing entries this year, a Tring system was also installed in the house. The system is meant to evoke an emotional response to energy consumption in future inhabitants and ultimately help conserve precious resources.

The house’s huge success has already been proven by its pre-determined future. A New Zealand woman in Christchurch has purchased the unit and is anxiously anticipating its 8,750 mile return across the ocean and the reunification of its six independent modules after the competition.

More Inhabitat links:

+ Solar Decathlon Coverage on Inhabitat

+ US Department of Energy 2011 Solar Decathlon

+ Team New Zealand

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