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State House to Passive House 5 – Step 1 - Researching State Houses

If it's good information in, and good information out, the first step is playing detective and finding as much information as possible about the building. In this case, an Ex-New Zealand State House from the 1940s. This is a record of my search. Another great thing about working on a classic state house is that there is so much information available. Check it out.


1. Books – So many great books on our state housing. Such a great heritage and legacy.

Books on our state housing heritage

Has there been a better example than Centennial Flats, Berhampore, in Wellington? There was this focus on community. I never realised that our example and most in the Hutt, were based on an English cottage style. So odd in Epuni and Taitā. This was thought to be friendlier than the modernism of Centennial Flats. Will we ever develop an Aotearoa style?

Centennial Flats, Berhampore

2. Council Records – Top marks for being free and online. Reasonable records of some 2007 alterations to the ground floor, though we must do so much more for a building consent now. The original plan on file however wasn’t the right one, damn it.

2007 alterations

3. Archives New Zealand Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga – A large collection of plans accessed through a tortuous non-accessible route through their construction, but again not the plan of this house. At that stage state housing was run by the Department of Housing Construction.


4. National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa Again they had some plans, though not the one for this house. They had a lot of great photos – wasn’t there something heroic about those times? The greatest discovery was a collection of standard details from this period. The house was designed in the late ’30s but we don’t think it was built till after the war.

Blueprints of some window details

A great hour going through 80-odd-year-old plans. Are modern BIM plans really better than those that were thoughtfully hand drawn? This showed that they used building paper for weatherboards but not for brick veneer. Their brick size and detailing were quite different from now. There are no weep holes to allow the cavity to drain out.


That doesn’t mean they built it as shown on the plans. The fireplace hearth wasn’t a cantilevered slab we could easily break off damn it.


5. Kāinga Ora – Finally found the original plans. Kāinga Ora holds between 20,000 and 30,000 microfiche plans of state houses built between 1937 and 1987. Who would have thought that you could email a busy crown agency (including the Bader Ventura Passive House Pilot) with your address, and they would email back a couple of days later with the correct plans? Wonderful! We are plan number HD7E-115.

Plan number HD7E-115

6. BRANZ https://www.renovate.org.nz/1940-60s/. Lastly, there are some great resources online here, on our different periods of housing. I’ll take that extra 10mm of insulation to the 4-inch or 100mm stud rather than today’s 90mm framing. Every little bit of insulation for modeling helps.


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