U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon | Powered by the Sun

Solar Decathlon 2011

New Zealand: Victoria University of Wellington

First Light

First Light, Victoria University of Wellington's U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011 entry, is inspired by the traditional New Zealand holiday home—the "Kiwi bach." First Light's design reflects a relaxed lifestyle in which socializing and connecting with the outdoors are central to living. At the heart of the design is a glazed central section that functions as a bridge between exterior and interior. A cedar canopy supports the solar array, which produces hot water and generates energy to power the house.

Design Philosophy

With its clean, simple lines and use of natural, low-maintenance materials, First Light puts a contemporary spin on the traditional Kiwi bach. Weather and climate are intertwined with the design philosophy of the First Light house to encourage an awareness of how to work with a changing climate rather than against it.


The house is named First Light because New Zealand is the first place morning light shines at the start of a new day. In addition to being the only entry from the Southern Hemisphere, First Light is unique in many ways.

  • The decking runs not only around the house but also through the center, allowing occupants to effectively live outside during summer and bringing a sense of the outdoors inside during winter.

  • A triple-glazed skylight and large bi-fold doors illuminate the central section of the house.

  • The house is clad in western red cedar using an innovative, detachable cladding system.

  • Custom-built furniture in the living room can transform to accommodate overnight guests.


First Light combines the principles of simplicity and innovation to ensure technology and sustainability complement the way New Zealanders live. It incorporates:

  • An interactive energy monitoring system that shows where energy is being used and displays peak energy use, peak energy production, water use, and weather data

  • An innovative drying cupboard that dries clothes quickly by pumping solar-heated hot water through a heat exchanger

  • Recycled sheep's wool as insulation.

Market Strategy

Although First Light is inspired by a vacation home, it is intended as a permanent residence for a couple. The house provides flexibility to accommodate family and friends through social spaces that can transform to suit the owner and make the most of the natural environment. The design creates multi-functional rooms while keeping practical concerns, such as storage, in mind. Although perfect for a couple, the house can be modified easily to accommodate spontaneous visits from guests.


Tobias Danielmeier
School of Architecture and Design
PO Box 600, 139 Vivian St.
Wellington, 6011
New Zealand
Phone: 64 4 463 6250

Photo of University of Wellington team members standing on the deck in front of First Light. Enlarge image

The Victoria University of Wellington Solar Decathlon team (courtesy of Sophie Prebble).

Illustration of First Light in a grassy setting. Mountains can be seen in the background. Enlarge image

A computer-generated rendering of Victoria University of Wellington's First Light (courtesy of the Victoria University of Wellington Solar Decathlon team).

A video walkthrough of New Zealand's Solar Decathlon house.

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