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Ruatoria alternative construction course gathers pace

A RUATORIA sustainable housing course is drawing students from all over the country, and even one from France.

Eastern Institute of Technology’s Ruatoria Regional Learning Centre runs light earth building courses for people to explore alternative house construction methods using local and natural resources.

The first course earlier this year had students building a prototype earth house from locally sourced natural and recycled materials.

Tutor Grant Steven said this semester they were expanding on that prototype and trying a slightly different design.

“We are using the same materials as last time, but with different techniques. We want to make the process standardised.”

Rather than fill in the earth walls they specifically made earth bricks, using materials including pampas grass, river sand and clay.

The framing material was from macrocarpa around Ruatoria and milled on site.

“The idea is to be able to establish processes that could be replicated. Having a mill and pre-building the blocks means we can step up the building to a larger scale.”

A house under $2000The aim was to be able to build earth houses for less than $2000, excluding labour costs.

Of the 30 students half had travelled from outside Ruatoria to participate.

Mitchell Puata travelled down from Te Puke to learn about sustainable, and affordable, housing, and to bring those skills back to his rohe.

“Housing has become so expensive, and renting too. People are being overcharged for substandard housing around the country.

“I have a piece of land back home but not enough money to build a traditional house, but I could come up with enough to build an earth house.

“I can envision these houses being built all around the country. They are affordable, warm and dry.”

Tiphanie Fievet is an architect from France who has been working in Dunedin on a working holiday visa.

She wanted to further develop her skills and become more consciousness and aware about sustainability in her work.

“I came to Ruatoria to try something different. I am really enjoying it here, there are nice people.

“I would like to find work where I can incorporate these new skills, and do something different.”

EIT Ruatoria Regional Learning Centre tutor Panapa Ehau, who oversaw the sustainability courses, said it was great to be bringing people in to Ruatoria.

“This is the only place in the country that does courses like this. People are coming here to do the course and take the ideas around the country.”

SUSTAINABLE BUILDING: A Ruatoria sustainable housing course is drawing students from outside the region, including Ana Rewha from Auckland (back left), Tiphanie Fievet from France (back right), Tui Kerei-Savage from Te Kaha (front left), and Mitchell Puata from Te Puke (front right).The houses use local materials, including framing from macrocarpa milled on site, and mud bricks, on the left wall, produced from pampas and clay. Picture by Michael Neilson