Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Urban Form and Passive Design for High Performance Buildings in the Christchurch Rebuild

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posted on 2021-11-15, 01:43 authored by Creswell-Wells, Tavis

“One of the most basic and fundamental questions in urban master planning and building regulations is ‘how to secure common access to sun, light and fresh air?” (Stromann-Andersen & Sattrup, 2011).  Daylighting and natural ventilation can have significant benefits in office buildings. Both of these ‘passive’ strategies have been found to reduce artificial lighting and air-conditioning energy consumption by as much as 80% (Ministry for the Environment, 2008); (Brager, et al., 2007). Access to daylight and fresh air can also be credited with improved occupant comfort and health, which can lead to a reduction of employee absenteeism and an increase of productivity (Sustainability Victoria, 2008).  In the rebuild of Christchurch central city, following the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011, Cantabrians have expressed a desire for a low-rise, sustainable city, with open spaces and high performance buildings (Christchurch City Council, 2011). With over 80% of the central city being demolished, a unique opportunity to readdress urban form and create a city that provides all buildings with access to daylight and fresh air exists.  But a major barrier to wide-spread adoption of passive buildings in New Zealand is their dependence on void space to deliver daylight and fresh air – void space which could otherwise be valuable built floor space. Currently, urban planning regulations in Christchurch prioritize density, allowing and even encouraging low performance compact buildings.  Considering this issue of density, this thesis aimed to determine which urban form and building design changes would have the greatest effect on building performance in Central City Christchurch.  The research proposed and parametrically tested modifications of the current compact urban form model, as well as passive building design elements. Proposed changes were assessed in three areas: energy consumption, indoor comfort and density. Three computer programs were used: EnergyPlus was the primary tool, simulating energy consumption and thermal comfort. Radiance/Daysim was used to provide robust daylighting calculations and analysis. UrbaWind enabled detailed consideration of the urban wind environment for reliable natural ventilation predictions.  Results found that, through a porous urban form and utilization of daylight and fresh air via simple windows, energy consumption could be reduced as much as 50% in buildings. With automatic modulation of windows and lighting, thermal and visual comfort could be maintained naturally for the majority of the occupied year. Separation of buildings by as little as 2m enabled significant energy improvements while having only minimal impact on individual property and city densities.  Findings indicated that with minor alterations to current urban planning laws, all buildings could have common access to daylight and fresh air, enabling them to operate naturally, increasing energy efficiency and resilience.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Sustainable Engineering

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Building Science

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970112 Expanding Knowledge in Built Environment and Design

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Architecture


Donn, Michael