Purpose Built Learning

Words by  Hannah Mumby
Charlotte Curd Charlotte Curd

The design of Green School New Zealand’s newly opened biophilic-inspired Kina classroom and community building is focused on purposefully provoking physiological responses.

Meticulously dreamed up by Green School and brought to life by BOON and Livingstone Building, The Kina follows the concept of neuro-architecture, or designing to enhance cognitive function and emotional wellbeing, and applies it to education in a way that sets a new benchmark for learning facilities.

GSNZ founder, Michael Perrett, believes neuro-architecture should be the starting point of every building design, especially schools, where our most precious community members – our children – are nurtured.

“Buildings can affect how we feel, they may even induce a physical response. Humanity knows how to build for joy or inspire through construction. Think about colourful art galleries, fanciful resorts or imposing castles. Typically, we do not think about how school buildings will impact children, but we should.”

The Kina’s carefully considered, intentionally curved shape inspires creativity and supports individual wellbeing, while its organic form and indoor-outdoor design creates a connection to the natural world that enhances the school’s focus on environmental action and sustainability.

The flowing structure has eight rooms that host primary learners, office staff, and has both undercover and exposed outdoor spaces for play, performing arts, reading, learning and more.

Its shapes, tones, textures and layout produce calming waves of creativity and connection, while offering separation and solace when required. From within the classrooms and sheltered courtyard are view shafts showcasing the outlook to the hills, Ōākura-Matapu River, Maunga Taranaki and campus surroundings. 

Lead architect from BOON, Glenn Brebner, says it was important to continue the visual impact of natural, modern, soft form and curiosity-invoking objects in the landscape, which had been applied to the campus’ first three “waka” classrooms. 

The brief called for experiential qualities that would cater to new arrivals and the younger students, while feeling welcoming and nurturing.

“As the design developed and we explored radial curves on the circular plane, the Kina metaphor took hold. We then embraced the form and patterns associated with this ubiquitous feature of coastal Aotearoa.” 

By intentionally selecting shapes derived from nature, Perrett says Green School learners are immediately connected to the natural environment, making the school’s commitment to teaching sustainability and creating mindful learners much more purposeful.

By taking steps to acknowledge how spaces can affect learning and mental health, he hopes a small ripple effect will take hold — not only with considerations for future building structures, but within the school itself. 

“We know that children learning in an environment close to nature have a significant advantage in many metrics we use to measure happiness and learning outcomes. 

“What we are trying to do here is turn the kids on, not off. We want them to want to come to school and by creating an environment based on our key Green School values, we see that happen every day.” 

The school’s “iRespect” values include integrity, responsibility, empathy, sustainability, peace, equity, community and trust, and Michael says they were established well before anything else in the school. 

“They are baked into our core. It’s what we live and breathe and although we are still fairly new, we’re starting to see some amazing results in our learners, based on these values.”

Attendance numbers tracking well above the national average, students feeling safe and happy at school, and full participation in school activities and assignments are just some of the data points collected to date.

Having a stimulating environment that is built with core values in mind is crucial to the successful implementation of those values, says Michael. Unsurprisingly, the value of sustainability was at the forefront of the Kina’s design and construction.

In place of traditional concrete and steel, driven timber piles were used to minimise emissions and carbon count. Building information modelling (BIM) software was used to communicate the complex form to engineers and fabricators, resulting in material efficiency and waste minimisation.

Its extraordinarily high level of thermal and acoustic insulation, and highly energy efficient hydronic heating and ventilation systems mean the Kina will consume an absolute minimum of electrical energy over its lifespan, while offering premium learning conditions to its young occupants

“If the building does come to the end of its life one day, we are able to disassemble it for reuse or recycling,” says Michael.

Through close collaboration with builders, engineers, the design team and government partners, the project was finished on time and on budget – a rare feat in today’s construction landscape. 

“It was such a challenging time to be building, but we’ve had the privilege of working with a team of local rock stars who helped us be creative with solutions and sacrifices. We’re full of gratitude and know the spaces we’ve created will have a positive mental health impact on our tamariki, allowing them to thrive in the modern world.”

The building’s development was made possible through an interest-bearing, asset-secured loan received from the government’s IRG Infrastructure Stimulus Fund and brings a chance for the school to increase its capacity. While closed borders have challenged its roll and business model over the past two-three years, Rachel Perrett says now that borders are open, the interest in Taranaki, and Green School, is building once more.

“In 2023 we’ll have new families joining us from USA, Spain, Canada, France, Japan and the Netherlands. We are so excited about the brave and adventurous calibre of families moving to New Plymouth and know they are supportive people who will help transition our community into one that is thriving, while in peace and balance with our environment.”

The significant volume of families who have already moved to the region are highly active through business, volunteering and community initiatives, while also contributing significantly to the local construction, retail and hospitality industries. 

The school is currently conducting an updated and in-depth economic impact report to detail where new investment and capital into the region is being felt. Rachel says building Green School in Taranaki was not only because it socially and environmentally made sense, but they understood the benefits it could bring to their treasured home region.

“Border closures have delayed some of these goals, but we know the economic impact so far has been significant, and it will be huge in the years to come. Also important is the diversity, knowledge, skills, culture and consciousness that some of our families are adding to the local community which is so enriching.” 

As the school grows, so too will its capacity to increase scholarship and learning opportunities for more local children – a key goal of the Green School Charitable Foundation.

For 2023, the school’s focus is to continue challenging learners with its real-world curriculum, and to celebrate its first cohort of Year 13 learners who will graduate with an accredited Green School New Zealand Diploma.

And while most people take a break and vow never to build again following the completion of a project, the same can’t be said of the Perretts.

Progress will continue on a netball and basketball court, as well as an Innovation Hub that will include kitchen facilities, a technology suite, “maker space” and science labs. The early design phase for the school’s largest building, the “Heart of School”, is also getting underway and will no doubt result in another breathtaking design destined for the former dairy farm in Ōākura.

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