Kakapo Creek Children’s Garden adapts the architecture of early learning into circularity

Through the circular shape of the early learning centre in Auckland, New Zealand, Smith Architects explores the multitude of sustainable prospects in educational architecture.

by STIRworldPublished on : Jul 19, 2022

In the conversation of planning the NEXT, the architecture and design world seems to oscillate between vernacular practices and new-age, cutting-edge technologies, proposing that the proverbial next may lie somewhere between the two. However, more often than not and amid the noise of building for tomorrow, we forget to familiarise the future generation with reasoning on and inhabiting these spaces. While designing for children, we primarily aim to create a safe space rather than a space that may influence their upbringing, connecting them to the ethos of a more responsible and responsive tomorrow early on. Though a number of educational and learning centres designed in the past few years have indeed emphasised on sustainability and environment-conscious designs, every step in the direction of exploring design potential of educational buildings still seems pertinent. While the design world steers towards innovative new approaches and conscious dialogue, educational architecture in particular needs to strive for more diversity and adaptability. Extending their perspective to this conversation, New Zealand-based Smith Architects have designed an early learning centre in the native land of the Māori tribe, Auckland.

The Kakapo Creek Children’s Garden etches a circular print of sustainability in the developing fabric of Mairangi Bay | Kakapo Creek Children’s Garden | Smith Architects | STIRworld
The Kakapo Creek Children’s Garden etches a circular print of sustainability in the developing fabric of Mairangi Bay Image: Mark Scowen

Nestled in the convergence of culture, nature, and the dainty architectural blend of new-age modernism and classicism of Mairangi Bay, the Kakapo Creek Children's Garden embraces the idea of Nga Hau E Wha, the four winds, being symbolic of a meeting place for people from all backgrounds. While the circular shape of the building remains an embodiment of the concept's emphasis on convergence, the curvature of the form owes its inspiration to the stream which forms the site boundary on the northern side of the building. With the central meeting space as the focus, the other functions radially border the circumference of the circular plan. Through the 729 sq.m. learning centre designed to accommodate close to a 100 children, the architects aim to create a sustainable narrative that erodes the datum line between the outdoors and indoors.

  • The central meeting space acts as an inner playground surrounded by other activity spaces | Kakapo Creek Children’s Garden | Smith Architects | STIRworld
    The central meeting space acts as an inner playground surrounded by other activity spaces Image: Mark Scowen
  • The fully glazed classrooms open up the indoors spaces to maximum visibility of the inner playground and the exterior landscape | Kakapo Creek Children’s Garden | Smith Architects | STIRworld
    The fully glazed classrooms open up the indoors spaces to maximum visibility of the inner playground and the exterior landscape Image: Mark Scowen

In a radial placement, the classrooms, art room, administrative spaces, and private spaces come together, facing the centre’s geometric focal point, to elucidate differing notions of children-friendly and sustainable design practices. With the fully glazed classrooms overlooking the inner courtyard and the design of the landscape, the children establish a continued connection to the outdoors even when the spaces aren’t being physically accessed. In its unique design approach, the Kakapo Creek Children’s Garden places the natural environment at the heart of the design. Even while resting amid the hustle and bustle of the city, the building connects to its user through glimpses of nature in a relatively serene setting comprising trees, streams, and lush greens.

  • The open spaces provide the children with an opportunity to connect with and learn in a natural environment | Kakapo Creek Children’s Garden | Smith Architects | STIRworld
    The open spaces provide the children with an opportunity to connect with and learn in a natural environment Image: Mark Scowen
  • The use of fully glazed windows and doors maximises daylight inside the building and reduces dependency on artificial lighting | Kakapo Creek Children’s Garden | Smith Architects | STIRworld
    The use of fully glazed windows and doors maximises daylight inside the building and reduces dependency on artificial lighting Image: Mark Scowen
  • Following the natural aesthetics of the exterior, timber becomes a significant material in the interior design too | Kakapo Creek Children’s Garden | Smith Architects | STIRworld
    Following the natural aesthetics of the exterior, timber becomes a significant material in the interior design too Image: Mark Scowen

Cutting through the natural terrain and resting on a plateauing plinth, the building is connected to the lower ground through a curved wooden walkway. Running along the south of the building, the walkway connects the site entrance and parking to the built structure. Through its boardwalk-like design, the walkway also serves as a nod to the presence of the stream on the northern side of the building. Adding to the minimal outlook of the architecture, the interior design reflects a rather natural materiality - that of wood - through the flooring, furniture, and indoor play areas. The courtyard becomes the inner playground with an open sky and glimpses of the roof garden.

  • With a cantilevered overhang and wooden flooring, the inner corridor simultaneously connects and separates the built and the unbuilt | Kakapo Creek Children’s Garden | Smith Architects | STIRworld
    With a cantilevered overhang and wooden flooring, the inner corridor simultaneously connects and separates the built and the unbuilt Image: Mark Scowen
  • The interior spaces follow a minimal mood board comprising neutral tones, wooden textures, and indoor plants | Kakapo Creek Children’s Garden | Smith Architects | STIRworld
    The interior spaces follow a minimal mood board comprising neutral tones, wooden textures, and indoor plants Image: Mark Scowen
  • The wooden ceiling that reveals the structural pattern creates a playful dynamicity in the spaces | Kakapo Creek Children’s Garden | Smith Architects | STIRworld
    The wooden ceiling that reveals the structural pattern creates a playful dynamicity in the spaces Image: Mark Scowen

Complementing the structure's contemporary design and unifying diverse spaces under a single roof, the building is topped by a timber glulam or plywood canopy blanketed by a green roof. This structural canopy reveals itself on the ceiling, thereby creating a dynamic and playful setting in the interiors. Along with being an identity for the whole building, the roof design also reduces rainwater runoff by over 50 per cent from the roof. Furthermore, this rainwater is discharged to the ground below the building to be cleaned and eventually filtered back to the stream.

  • The playground utilises recycled materials from the erstwhile structure on the site for its finishes  | Smith Architects | STIRworld
    The playground utilises recycled materials from the erstwhile structure on the site for its finishes Image: Mark Scowen
  • The inner playground, open to sky, provides a glimpse of the green roof to the children in the space | Kakapo Creek Children’s Garden | Smith Architects | STIRworld
    The inner playground, open to sky, provides a glimpse of the green roof to the children in the space Image: Mark Scowen

While addressing their intent to design a sustainable building, the architects paid much attention to the services of the structure as well. All services run under the raised floor of the building for easy access to maintenance. The use of electric heat pump units hidden above the ceiling in bathrooms for heating and cooling purposes reduces the cost of functioning and emits low carbon. With fully glazed windows and doors in low E glass, the interiors receive ample natural ventilation and daylight along with reduced heat loss. Additionally, the architects recycled materials from the erstwhile structure on the site for playground finishes. 

  • The building is topped off by a timber glulam or plywood canopy and a green roof | Kakapo Creek Children’s Garden | Smith Architects | STIRworld
    The building is topped off by a timber glulam or plywood canopy and a green roof Image: Mark Scowen
  • The roof design reduces rainwater runoff by over 50 per cent | Kakapo Creek Children’s Garden | Smith Architects | STIRworld
    The roof design reduces rainwater runoff by over 50 per cent Image: Mark Scowen
  • With its unique design, the roof becomes an identity for the whole building | Kakapo Creek Children’s Garden | Smith Architects | STIRworld
    With its unique design, the roof becomes an identity for the whole building Image: Mark Scowen

Though the donut-like form and radial arrangement of spaces aren’t a completely new domain for architectural styles, the functional adaptation of the circular shape warrants much attention here. While sharing the design of the early learning centre, the architects state, "The building design is unique but adaptable - the local residents thought it was a restaurant or bar, not childcare, so the building could easily be adapted in future if childcare is not viable," commenting on the multifaceted utility of their circular form, and perhaps a utility agnostic adaptability of architecture to be termed a truly sustainable intervention.

  • Kakapo Creek Children’s Garden: Roof Plan | Kakapo Creek Children’s Garden | Smith Architects | STIRworld
    Kakapo Creek Children’s Garden: Roof Plan Image: Courtesy of Smith Architects
  • Kakapo Creek Children’s Garden: Floor Plan | Kakapo Creek Children’s Garden | Smith Architects | STIRworld
    Kakapo Creek Children’s Garden: Floor Plan Image: Courtesy of Smith Architects
  • Kakapo Creek Children’s Garden: Sections | Kakapo Creek Children’s Garden | Smith Architects | STIRworld
    Kakapo Creek Children’s Garden: Sections Image: Courtesy of Smith Architects
  • Kakapo Creek Children’s Garden: Elevations | Kakapo Creek Children’s Garden | Smith Architects | STIRworld
    Kakapo Creek Children’s Garden: Elevations Image: Courtesy of Smith Architects

(Text by Sunena V Maju, intern at STIRworld)

Project Details

Name: Kakapo Creek Children’s Garden
Location: Mairangi Bay, Auckland, New Zealand
Built Area: 729 sq.m
Typology: Early Learning Centre
Architect: Smith Architects
Lead Architect: Phil Smith
Completion Year: 2022
Design Team: Phil Smith and Akash Kumar
Engineer: Markplan Consulting Ltd
Construction: Meridian Construction
Playground Designer: Tessa Rose Playspace and Landscape Design
Playground Builder: Auckland Supercity Builders
Furniture: Learning Spaces Global
Resources: Every Educaid
Main Materials: Aluminium glazing by APL Windows Solutions; Glulaminated Visual Appearance Timber / Timber Prefabrication by Techlam NZ; Ceiling Plywood by Plytech NZ; Fire coating to plywood by Zone Architectural Product; Duotherm Green Roof System by Equus Industries

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