Building affordable, sustainable, environmentally-friendly whare

By Te Kuru o te Marama Dewes

With house prices soaring, the community in the Ngāti Porou township of Ruatoria are empowering themselves through education around using natural resources to build homes.

“Our people of Ngāti Porou are in poverty and unemployment, there's no money to purchase building supplies but this, the supplies are right here at home,” says Tom Kaa.

Ripeka Faye Pohatu says, “The families will get a house, it's enjoyable and it's economic.”

Today the students are mixing clay with grass and other clippings, setting them in brick moulds and then drying them in the sun to become solid bricks.

Aubrey Day has come all the way from Taranaki to participate in the course. 

“There's a lot of different ways to build with natural materials," says Day, "So this one is heavy on straw, and that creates insulation, it's kind of like pink bats but it's non-toxic.”

Pohatu says, “The thing I like about this course is that we'll be using a lot of things like the plastic choking up our moana, it can be used to make these whare.”

The ten-week earth-building course has been up-and-running for two years at EIT in Ruatoria, enabling students young and old to gain practical skills in earth building and using wood and natural fibres with clay.

Behind the course is Grant Steven, who says he represents a growing worldwide movement in earth-building. 

“So we're working with traditional building methods but we're doing it in a new way that works better for modern times,” says Steven.

Participants are already making plans to implement what they've learnt and taken it back to their families.

"Our people like this type of work, some want to make pizza ovens at their marae...it's quick for cooking, sometimes there's no mānuka to make a hāngi, we can just throw it in this thing," says Kaa. 

Bella Kaa agrees, “That's what I'll do first is take these clay-building lessons back to the marae of my partner, Ohinewaiapu in Rangitukia.”

The course will run for another seven weeks before the next in-take.