Ngati Hine Childcare ‘Whenua’
Ngati Hine Health Trust
Kawakawa, Northland, New Zealand
NZ$1.8M / UK 540,00
2009 – 2012, 3 years inception to completion
Having read so much about the architecture of a nearby recently opened childcare centre I went along yesterday to see it for myself. I was intrigued for two reasons. Firstly, due to the shape of the building. It represents that of a mothers womb. Secondly, what sort of sustainability does it take to, not only be short-listed for 1 of 25 unbuilt projects from around the world, in the 2010 World Architecture Awards, but also be put forward for a Green Star rating and is anticipated to achieve the full 6 stars? In New Zealand a 6* Green Star certified rating (scores 75-100) signifies ‘World Leadership’ within sustainable construction.
Expat British Architect, Phil Smith was given the brief of designing a building to accommodate a local Maori tribe, the new ‘mokopuna’ (generation) and teach culture and custom, while having a minimal impact on the environment. Unlike European thought where people own land, in Māori the land is
regarded as a mother to the people. The relationship to land is not
dissimilar to that of the foetus to the placenta.
The only opening to the building is along the north facade, and reads as
a cut in the earth. This cut symbolically represents the caesarian
birth through which all of the tribe (Ngati Hine) take their lineage; their ancestor
Hine ā Maru was the first recorded Maori woman to deliver a child by
caesarian section and survive the procedure about 600 years ago. It is
from this opening that the children symbolically enter the ‘world of
light’, where they play.
A circular moat isolates the ‘womb-like form’ as an island, relating
back to the tradition that all land is born from under the sea. A bridge
is formed to give access to the island, which is symbolically shaped
into the tribal waka (canoe) Ngātokimatawhaorua, representing the
journey of the tribe’s forefathers from Hawaiki to Aotearoa (New Zealand).
The building emerges from mounded up earth representing the local tribal hill land. The interior below the earth represents nearby caves where ancestors lay buried.
The building faces north for maximum solar efficiency. The super insulated earth roof covered in local grass and vegetation results in minimal heat loss.
Image take from the top of the roof. To the left hand side the earth roof slopes down to ground level encompassing the whole of the south facade of the building.
Closer up of roof where recent torrential rain has moved some earth.
There is only one entrance from the back of the building. A shallow pond with small fish greets visitors and attendees when nearing the main door.
A colour changing light hangs above the reception. The plywood triangles match that of the internal walls (see later photo).
For internal comfort exposed concrete construction and natural ventilation allows the building to be cooled in summer. Back up heating in winter is provided by a solar hot water underfloor system.
Solid concrete internal wall.
Corridor along the back wall. Plywood triangles give texture to the wall and create an airy, tunnel like feel.
All spaces are naturally lit, needing no additional lighting during the day.
The crescent shaped corridor that forms the back spine of the building has all classrooms running off it.
Classrooms house different ages groups.
Modern designed classrooms. Constructed with simple materials such as concrete, plywood and polished concrete (under heated) flooring.
Traditional Maori flax woven bags hold children’s work folders.
Bright classrooms that are fully glass fronted on to the outdoor play area.
The outside area/s were spacious yet private. Children could play in various areas and tucked round the back was an emerging vege garden.
This childcare centre is not only the most incredible environmentally friendly building I have ever been in, it is also the best child care centre I have ever visited. An amazing place for children to learn. The staff were so friendly and even though I visited out of hours, the few children that were still there at the end of the day, smiled and seemed relaxed and happy. Quite rightly so.
Can you spot the grass roof of the childcare centre in the distance?
(Photography / Laura Thomas)