Challenge to build better


A bold, 10-year government-backed research initiative will re-engineer how New Zealand’s built environment is delivered. Outcomes should be better housing, vibrant neighbourhoods, and thriving towns and cities.

The Building Better Homes, Towns and Cities – Ko ngā wā kāinga hei whakamāhorahora National Science Challenge is one of 11 National Science Challenges established by the government in 2013.

Eleven challenges were progressively launched from late 2014 with the aim of focusing research effort on significant issues that matter most to New Zealanders. The Building Better Homes, Towns and Cities (BBHTC) challenge was launched in May 2016.

New approach to research

To make progress on these difficult issues, National Science Challenges are also trying new ways of doing things in terms of scientific approaches and collaboration between researchers from different disciplines and research organisations. They aim to foster effective partnerships early on with the people and parties benefiting from and implementing the research results.

The strength of the programme lies in its size, breadth of expertise and willingness of the team to look at old issues with new perspectives.

Ambitious direction

The BBHTC National Science Challenge is a collaboration hosted by BRANZ and involving researchers from more than 20 research organisations and companies. It brings together a team that includes expertise in design, architecture, construction, planning, geography, behavioural sciences, economics and technology.

National Science Challenges are mission-led research programmes. The government has given each challenge a mission or objective, budget, time and the freedom to determine the best way to deliver on the mission.

For the BBHTC challenge:

  • the vision is Ka ora kāinga rua – built environments that build communities
  • the mission is Manaaki tangata – co-created innovative research that helps transform people’s dwellings into homes and communities that are hospitable, productive and protective.

The objective is to improve the quality and supply of housing and create smart and attractive urban environments through:

  • improved housing stock
  • meeting future demand for affordable housing
  • taking up innovation and productivity improvement opportunities
  • improving urban environments and residents’ wellbeing
  • better systems for improved land-use decisions.

Six programme themes

The research is structured around six themes or strategic research areas (SRAs) that collectively deliver on our challenge vision and will operate over the first 3 years of the challenge:

  • Kāinga Tahi, Kāinga Rua
  • Shaping places: future neighbourhoods
  • Supporting success in regional settlements
  • Next-generation information
  • Transforming the building industry
  • Improving the architecture of decision making.

The first three programmes tackle the key different spatial scales in which our built environment operates.

Kainga tahi kainga rua

This focuses on the home scale, recognising the importance of good-quality, affordable homes for all. Research over the first 3 years is targeting improved outcomes for Māori housing, specifically increasing the quality and supply of affordable housing that meets the needs of individuals and whānau.

Shaping places: future neighbourhoods

This focuses on the neighbourhood scale because liveable and well designed neighbourhoods, including houses, benefit their inhabitants and society as a whole. Healthy neighbourhoods also contribute to successful towns and cities.

In other words, both the physical and social structure of neighbourhoods are critical to their success.

Initial research focuses on the larger cities – home to around half of all New Zealanders. It will lead to an understanding of the principles and processes creating more successful neighbourhoods.

Supporting success in regional settlements
Thirty-five percent of the population lives outside of cities. This research programme is focused primarily on understanding the lived experience in regional towns and settlements and how best to support local efforts to make these places thriving and vibrant communities.

Vital to success

Three other projects address key issues vital to our mission.

Next-generation information

This focuses on driving the development of better homes, towns and cities through improved understanding and use of information, with a specific focus on geospatial data.

The research team will examine the availability, value and usefulness of key information, establish data quality baselines, ownership and access together with the range of potential associated values.

It will assess the value of different types of information to various recipients, including information that is currently used and also new sources with the potential to inform better decision making.

Transforming the building industry

This focuses on working with industry on research that will enable new technologies, appropriately skilled labour and improved processes to deliver high-quality, cost-effective buildings and associated services in places where they are needed. Buildings need to be designed to meet the needs of New Zealand? ?!”s evolving, multi-cultural society.

Improving the architecture of decision making

This turns away from searching for mythical silver bullets to fix the industry and housing markets. It focuses instead on how our built environments – our homes, towns and cities – are produced through activities and logics of a complex array of industries, agents, sectors and resource holders.

This research is designed to:

  • map out the architecture of decision making
  • identify what tools and logics different actors use
  • establish how those tools and logics may facilitate or impede the building of better homes, towns and cities
  • work with this array of actors and with a robust evidence base to identify how those different logics, tools and practices may be realigned or refined to optimise desired outcomes across this complex system as a whole.

Originally published in Build magazine, issue 163, December 2017.

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Date posted: 7 December 2017