Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Inside the First Light House: Interior Design for New Zealand’s Entry into the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon 2011

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posted on 2023-03-14, 23:31 authored by Farrow, Anna

This thesis documents a two year journey to design and build a most unconventional kiwi bach. It reports on the applied research undertaken in order to meet the specific requirements of a particular construction project: the development of a transportable, modular, demountable, entirely solar-powered house built in New Zealand to compete in the US Department of Energy’s 2011 Solar Decathlon, held in Washington DC. This challenge was initially taken on by a small team of undergraduate students with very little previous experience in the construction process. The team faced a set of technical and logistical hurdles that would have been daunting for even the most experienced practitioner to negotiate, let alone a group for whom an architectural career was just beginning. Such challenges included: - Creating a house design that would comply with two sets of building codes, endure 18,000 kilometres of transport over two months, expedite assembly by a team of unskilled labourers, and enable comfortable inhabitation after seven days; - Optimising the thermal performance and liveability of one building for two climates in two hemispheres; - Using architecture, landscape and interior design to explain New Zealand and its lifestyle to an American audience of 200,000; - Realising an entire and complex project that required 100% external funding and in-kind support from as-yet unknown parties. By predisposition, then, the project was not going to be simple: very little of the process and very few of the construction details were going to be standard in any way. This thesis focuses on the critical design developments of the house interior, from a hypothetical design to the full-scale assembly of a ‘kiwi bach’ in the heart of Washington DC. The research and outcomes presented here are not necessarily all precedents for future building projects, but rather ‘best-fit’ solutions for the highly particular and constrained design situation brought about by the interaction of the range of logistical, legislative and economic controls, the dynamics of the wider team, and the demands of the Solar Decathlon competition. The project as a whole can, and should, act as a valid precedent for future architectural projects with regard to research into modular construction, prefabrication, and the collaborative building process. The students that were involved will embark on their professional careers with the Solar Decathlon experience as a foundation for their future contribution to the construction industry.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Architecture

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Architecture


Vale, Brenda; Vale, Robert