Te Mirumiru binds within its walls Maori traditions on the creation of life, and modern, energy-efficient design. This early childhood centre in New Zealand is a beautiful ode to mother earth and our deep connection with her.
Many a traditional folktale talks about the profoundly positive energy that can be drawn from Earth. This single thought has inspired, shaped and reinforced the character of the Te Mirumiru project in Kawakawa, Northland, New Zealand.
This building may be a concrete hunk built to house an early childhood centre, but its spiritual pre-disposition dominated every step of its conception and construction.
Collingridge and Smith Architects (CASA) have conjured up a place that safeguards and nurtures the ‘spirit’ of this location, a ‘house of earth’ that is an ode to the source of all life. Every turn and cut and accent on this property has a story that finds a link to the fondest Maori traditions.
The most structurally resonant of these stories is the one which relates that all life is born from Papatuanuku (Mother Earth) under the sea, with the New Zealand islands being placentas from her womb. The Maoris are tied to the land they are born on – viscerally and spiritually.
Te Mirumiru is a warehouse of eco-friendly and unassuming totems, with a delightful feminine quality to everything from shape to substance. The whole structure apes the complex curvature of a womb, and imagines its interiors as residents of this ensconce.
The building lies cosy in the embrace of a natural green roof and coat; its entrance looking like the opening of a birth canal faces a road that looks fated to be empty. The backyard, decorated with conch-shaped grass spots and sinewy wooden fences, shares ground with dreamy birches. This is the place where in the future ‘l’enfant sauvages’ will come to be tutored gently.
One of the Maori concepts that inspire Te Mirumiru’s close connect with the phenomenon of life-creation is the term ‘whenua’, which can mean both ‘land’ and ‘placenta’. In Maori culture, burying one’s placenta in the earth is a fond tradition that cements a person’s link to the place she/he is born on.
Te Mirumiru has been designed to also be superbly energy efficient. The natural roofing and the concrete below play fool with the seasons and keep the indoors warm during winters and cool during summers, thanks to an intelligent ventilation system.
The double glazed façade faces away from the street, and invites warmth and breeze depending on what the weather demands. Water is brilliantly managed by reducing run-offs to the minimum – the roof and the grass retain rainwater, while all excess is stored in a tank and used to flush toilets. Solar panels and under-floor heating cut out the use of fossil fuels to almost nothing.
The exterior’s natural carnival sweeps into the building as well – the entire place is flushed with sunlight and breeze; shadows creating charming patterns on the floor and walls.
The furniture is dominated by thick, resolute pieces of wood, which form the wardrobes and the shelves for soft toys, as well as act as bulwarks for the roof. Some of the walls sport stone tiles and the cushions remain monotone in commitment. No one needs to worry if colours are absent in this scheme; they will come – stuck on chart papers and shaped out of crepe stationery handled by young hands.
Light becomes coy in the corridor spaces of this building. Accented by conical wooden shapes, the walls in these parts of the structure hide warm light fixtures in their belly, letting out only the required amount of ethereal illumination.
In the misty surroundings of this northern spot in New Zealand, the Te Mirumiru building is a romantic lounger, languorously snuggled under a green quilt.
That this design was inspired by something as fundamental as one’s connection to one’s mother, elevates the aura of the building beyond just the materials it is made out of. Its rooms resonate with serenity; there are no jarring colours or fancy contour details here.
Kawakawa is a speck of a town populated by 1,300 odd people. So, what really is in ample supply is sheer space, clean air and lots of natural beauty. Te Mirumiru celebrates all of this, and to good measure.
Text By Shruti Nambiar
Photographs Simon Devitt