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A Guide to Planet-Friendly Design

Embarking on an architecture project can be quite daunting, especially if you consider everything that needs to be addressed to achieve a successful outcome. 

This newsletter is a design guide of sorts, where we uncover 7 key aspects to achieving a planet-friendly and high-performance architectural project. 

A particularly important aspect is the building’s embodied energy and how much energy it takes to run. So we’ll also take a more in-depth look at a carbon modelling tool and principles of energy-efficient design.

We hope you enjoy the read and find the content useful.
Feel free to let us know your thoughts and above all, take care of each other and stay healthy!

August 2021

Duncan Sinclair - 027 487 7766
In this Issue:
A Guide to Planet-Friendly Design
Place, Health & Happiness, Materials, Water, Equity, Beauty, Energy
Early-Stage Carbon Calculator
General overview with a link to the article on our website
LBC Petals

A Guide to Planet-Friendly Design
We want the result of our work to create a great legacy for generations to come.

As a registered architecture practice, we work hard to ensure the result of our work has a positive impact on our planet and people.  The best way we can do this is by working together with you, to create healthy, beautiful, low-carbon projects.

Here are 7 design aspects for high-performance architecture for you to consider:


Understanding your site and its context is critical for successful architecture. Place-based design ensures that a dwelling contributes positively to the local ecology. By connecting with the site’s unique characteristics, your project can enhance the biodiversity and ecological baseline.

Allow time to be spent on this assessment. Be sure that thorough research is done before commencing design work. Gain a comprehensive overview of your site’s unique needs. This stage can also uncover ways to create a regenerative project.

Your site will give clues on how to achieve this. These clues will inform where it is acceptable to build, how to protect and restore a place once it has been developed, and how to connect it responsibly to its surroundings.

Villa Cuba
(Villa Cuba, Black Pine Architects)
Health & Happiness

The spatial design will affect your general wellbeing (for better or worse), and should allow you to connect with nature and receive healthy air and abundant daylight, without compromising your comfort.

Passive House Certification provides certainty on the road to high-performance health. Most homes in New Zealand are built to meet the New Zealand building Code. This means they have met the bare minimum requirements, but are not guaranteed to keep you warm or healthy.

High performance architecture means that it will stand the test of time. It will create an indoor environment to keep you and your family comfortable for years to come, freeing you from ongoing, crippling energy costs.

Material selection is a particular focus for Black Pine. Careful selection can have a significant positive impact on everybody’s wellbeing; yours and the team you employ for its construction.

Avoiding materials high in VOC’s – Volatile Organic Compounds – is important here. Avoid ALL Red List materials – a comprehensive list of “worst in class” materials, known to pose serious risk to human health and the greater ecosystem.

Instead, materials that have a Declare Label should be selected. This means that their ingredients, manufacturing process, sources, and end-of-life fate are declared and transparent.

Dress your project in clothes that stand the test of time and will not need frequent replacement. Not only will this save you dollars in the long term, but it will reduce the volume of waste materials that gets sent to landfill.

Consider the use of recycled materials where applicable. This saves valuable planetary resources by not depleting new ones; can save you dollars in upfront costs, and provides a valuable link to the history of a site.
(Abodo Timber Cladding, Declare Labelled Product)

Water is an easy one to consider in every project, think about its natural cycle when addressing the design aspects.

Aim to reduce the energy and chemicals involved in transporting, purifying, and pumping water. Reconsider the label of ‘Wastewater’, reframe it as the valuable resource it is: a re-usable yet scarce resource, which if carefully managed, increases a home’s resilience.

Active choices might include rainwater harvesting (capturing water from the roof in tanks), grey water systems, and natural wastewater treatment such as worm-based septic tanks.

A project should be inclusive to all and allow everyone the dignity to equal access and fair treatment, regardless of their background.

A design should consider how people will respond to and interact with spaces, without excluding any particular group. This involves recognising any potential discomfort people may encounter in a project and finding solutions to address them, to ensure inclusivity in the community.

Aspects such as scale in relation to surroundings, universal access, and legislative equality fall under equitable considerations.
(3D Visualisation, Black Pine Architects)

Great architecture means marrying all these equally important aspects into a design, while also uplifting its inhabitants and surroundings. Beauty is important for psychological comfort.
In addition to the joy which a thing of beauty brings to our lives, when a thing is considered beautiful it is often also afforded more attention and better care, increasing its longevity.

Beauty can be achieved by connecting a project to nature, as nature is a key psychological need. A building’s aesthetics can be enhanced through its place-based relationship and its integration to its surroundings - architecture isn’t the building by itself, but involves everything around it as well.

Energy efficiency means responsibly addressing your project's use of embodied and operational energy.

Embodied energy includes the energy required to create, ship, prepare and install a material (including all its component parts).

Operational energy involves the energy your project consumes throughout the rest of its life. Therefore, it should involve sources of renewable energy that allow your project to operate passively, quietly, and pollution-free.
The steps involved to get there often seem scary, but the positive contributions it will have to your long-term budget, plans, wellbeing, and the environment, are immeasurable.

See our dedicated article below for more on achieving energy efficiency!

Black Pine's Carbon Measure
To hold ourselves accountable and inspire you, we include our office's monthly carbon reading with every newsletter! 

The month of July is
0.03 tCO2e

The amount of tree seedlings grown for 10 years needed to offset our carbon is 3.7 this month!

These graphs below indicate the office's cumulative carbon emissions and monthly usage respectively.

Early-Stage Carbon Calculator
Passive House
A way to thoroughly achieve energy efficiency is through carbon modelling. It is quite a technical topic, but that’s what we’re here for - to worry about the details. Carbon modelling enables us to measure your project’s carbon consumption in the early design stage. This will also give us an indication on what energy-creation and consumption measures we need to implement in the project.

For more on this topic – and ways to lower your project’s energy usage – read further in our dedicated article below.

Imagine a building that is as efficient as a flower; a simple symbol for the ideal built environment.
The Living Building Challenge is organized into seven performance areas, or Petals.
In our newsletters, different items are identified with the relevant Petal, helping to place it in context.

From Tara, Duncan, Akshaya and Emma
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