A child’s school is known to be his second home. Bearing this thought in mind, Collingridge and Smith Architects (CASA) has given the children of Auckland an enriching home away from home with their recently completed institute of education.
The Hauora is a philosophy of health and well-being unique to New Zealand and propagated by its Māori community; an indigenous people that arrived from eastern Polynesia in several waves of canoe voyages between 1250 and 1300 CE. There are four dimensions to Hauora, each associated with a different aspect of well-being – physical, mental/emotional, social and spiritual.
Graphically, the Whare Tapa Wha model describes Hauora as four walls of a whare (a Māori hut or communal house), each wall representing a different dimension. It is believed that all four dimensions are crucial to building strength and stability.
The Hobsonville Point Early Learning Centre was to be built, established and operated by the North Auckland Kindergarten Association (NAKA). In keeping with the organisation’s core belief, the architects have modelled their concept after Hauora. For the design of the primary school, three whares housing the main functions of the building have been rotated and overlaid to form a village with a ‘piazza’ at its heart. A symbolic representation of the philosophy, this central pivotal space forms the social heart of the building into which all the classrooms and the kitchen flow.
The form of the building draws its inspiration from a typical suburban/rural New Zealand home – a modern whare, of sorts. Of course, the house typology has been “simplified down to its bare bones to make it more architectural,” says Phil Smith, one of the founding partners at CASA. The roof and walls are wrapped in dark corrugated steel, a commonly used residential roof and wall cladding.
The vast expanses of glass in the facade ensure 80% visual connectivity to the outside capitalising on natural lighting and encouraging a seamless circulation between the interior and exterior. Smith adds, “The simple central ridged pitched roof is distilled from typical residential forms and turned into an extruded shape to make it more dynamic, capturing and extending its space into the landscape to maximise the indoor/outdoor flow.”
The architecture of the school informs the scheme for the interior design. One could almost call it a pure building, in that what one sees on the outside is what one gets on the inside. The shape, scale and proportion of the building’s form define and decorate the interior spaces, leaving no need for ceilings that are ‘false’ or adornments of any kind.
The scheme for the interior design, in a sense, is to have no separate scheme at all. Internal glazed doors have the same frame colour as the external cladding and window framing, maintaining a harmony between all the elements. The internal walls and ceiling are painted a shade of white, making the interior space as bright as possible and allowing it to pick up the colour of the weather.
“White is the only colour that reflects the colour of the sky and sun without interfering with it, and so the building with its large areas of glass really does become a reflection of our varied weather patterns. This is vitally important in a building where children may spend all their waking hours – daylight regulates melatonin levels which govern sleep patterns in humans and lack of daylight can be a big cause of broken and irregular sleep,” says Smith.
Built over a period of 9 months and occupying a gross area of 450 sq m, the learning centre boasts of an impressive list of environmental credentials. From plasterboard, paint finishes and sheet timber products to carpets, vinyl floor finishes and adhesives/sealants, all materials have been selected based on their eco-friendly certification and low VOC values.
With a major portion of the building’s lighting requirement being satisfied by natural means, less than 100 sq m of space requires to be artificially lit. Pendants with LED bulbs which are 80% more energy efficient than their incandescent counterparts do the trick. Additionally, the design facilitates solar gain in the winter, while natural ventilation, shading and thermal mass cool the building in the summer.
Hobsonville is a newly developed part of Auckland with many new houses, urban squares, suburban streets, etc. Because each classroom is its own whare, it becomes easy for the child to identify and relate his experience at the childcare to the wider Hobsonville Village. In a way, the childcare centre becomes a microcosm of the wider world the child now finds himself in.
Text By Priti Kalra
Photographs Courtesy Collingridge and Smith Architects