Architecture encompasses a lot of things. It’s art. It’s function. It’s culture. The Te Mirumiru Early Childhood Education Centre is an example of all three, with the added achievement of a low environmental impact.
The setting is Kawakawa, New Zealand, and the client is a Maori tribe looking for a school that represents the history of the land and its people. In coordination with Collingridge and Smith Architects (CASA), the project adopted many symbols from the beliefs of the Maori people. The basis for the structure centers on the Maori belief that all life is born from the womb of Papatūānuku (earth mother), under the sea. The Maori word for land (whenua) also means placenta. With this in mind, the land for the build site is shaped like a womb with the building representing a baby within. Even the single entrance into the building is a testament to the history of the iwi (tribe). The slit-like opening pays homage to the first woman ever said to have survived a cesarean birth — a mother from the Maori people over 600 years ago.
With such a strong connection to the land, it was important to the Maori to respect nature with low-impact systems. Passive environmental design features include a thick roof that retains heat and a solar hot water underfloor system. The construction embraces natural ventilation for cooling and is positioned to take advantage of the sun for heat and light. During the day, no additional electrical lighting is used in the space. Aesthetically, a grass roof and adjacent bank blend into the surrounding swampy ecology. For a complete water cycle, all blackwater is treated on-site and the clean nutrient-rich water is used to irrigate the green roof above.
The thought and effort put into the design have been rewarded with a six Greenstar Education Rating (the highest rating possible) from the New Zealand Green Building Council. Te Mirumiru is one of only three buildings in New Zealand to receive this rating and is the only Greenstar rated early childhood center in Australasia.
According to a statement from the architects, “Te Mirumiru early childhood centre has received 11 international and national awards, culminating in 2014 with the World Green Building Council’s Leadership in Sustainable Design Award, the only building in the whole of the Asia Pacific region to receive such a title.”
Images via Collingridge and Smith Architects (UK) Ltd