Toward healthier, sustainable, medium density housing, through a return to natural materials
Medium density housing can be built sustainably using natural materials. These homes are healthy to live in and have minimal impact on the environment. Increasing demand, diminishing available land, climate change and unsustainable building practices all contribute to a growing housing crisis. The list of manufactured materials such as asbestos, PVC and formaldehyde, that are hazardous to us and our planet continues to grow. Many modern homes are not fit for purpose, being poorly insulated, damp mould inducing toxic buildings, recognised as a major contributor to poor health, and being detrimental in their manufacture to the environment. Until recently, natural building materials, perceived as inferior to modern manufactured products, have been considered unsuitable for modern building. The RADIUS¹ solution cycle is developed from this research as an organised design led process. Research driven by design, then through Analysis and Discussion, Inform Design, so as to Utilise new findings to Solve the conundrum. Historically, natural material structures last for hundreds and in some cases thousands of years. Just as ancient history can show us the way with materials, perhaps recent history can suggest answers to better medium density design, the hexagon is trialed here as one possible alternative site configuration. Global interest in natural materials in developed countries is growing, the higher labour cost is no longer considered problematic, being offset by the significant material cost and environmental impact savings, health benefits and an estimated building life expectancy exceeding 200 years. New Zealand as an advocate of healthy living and conservation of nature should lead the world by example in this field in which it is currently under-represented. A composite wall and floor of straw, clay, aggregate, sand and lime is readily available, renewable, sustainable and works synergistically to maintain correct moisture levels and inhibit mould. I present two housing developments as proof of concept that natural building materials offer new typologies and a healthy sustainabale way forward.