Design goes commercial

18:50, Feb 25 2013

Former Francis Douglas Memorial College student Ben Jagersma always knew he wanted to be an architect.

With engineers in the family and his father a former draftsman, he had early exposure to the industry.

"I guess it started when I was younger, probably like many architects playing with blocks, putting form and shape together and of course an interest in drawing as well," says Jagersma, who will be talking at Puke Ariki tomorrow night.

"Then going into high school there was an interest in science - physics and the engineering side. It was a natural pathway."

Once at university, Jagersma never questioned his decision to study architecture - he had found his direction, one which led him to the First Light House project.

This initially began as an assignment for a university elective paper, but evolved. Hugely.


With backing from Victoria University, Jagersma and the First Light House team found themselves heading for Washington DC.

In the United States capital, the students took part in the US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011, the only entry, ever, from the southern hemisphere.

For the competition, the First Light House team - and volunteers - had to build their net zero- energy prefab house in just one week. They did, and their entry finished third in the prestigious event.

The project also became the basis of the group's Masters thesis.

Since the competition, the students, who had been randomly assigned to work together, have started their own business.

Jagersma explains why the team has been able to accomplish so much, both during the competition and since.

"It was a collective process and it's something that I think was one of the successes of the whole project - our ability to work together as a team and complement each other. We had the balance between the science or practical side and the artistic side too."

That balance was required when the team faced the challenges of designing a zero-energy prefab house that could be transported in shipping containers, while still ensuring the house maintained a certain aesthetic.

"It was an awesome process for us as designers," says Jagersma, describing the elements that pushed and pulled the design.

"Throughout the whole process we had this design and concept and we wanted to stay true to it in regards to building a home that was representative of New Zealand lifestyle and the Kiwi way of life - living with the outdoors."

The original competition design has now been redefined into a commercial product. First Light Studio, the spinoff business, designs energy-efficient prefab houses that anyone can buy.

"This is the dream," Jagersma says.

The team still battles the challenges of making a prefab house that has low-energy consumption and looks good. Jagersma believes that clever architecture comes from those compromises.

"It's really exciting, this whole process, and we are starting to get a lot of interest in it," he says.

To learn more about the First Light House project, people can hear Jagersma talk in the Puke Ariki Foyer from 6pm to 7.30pm tomorrow. This is a Kiwi Prefab: Cottage to Cutting Edge exhibition event.

Taranaki Daily News