A living, breathing building

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New buildings at a girls’ school in Christchurch incorporate nature into architecture.

Areas by the window complimented by blue carpet tiles add to the learning environment. Photo by Dave Richards

Areas by the window complimented by blue carpet tiles add to the learning environment. Photo by Dave Richards

Two new buildings for the Rangi Ruru Girl’s School in Christchurch, New Zealand – the Science Centre and the Gibson Centre, a 590m2, single-storied library and function centre – give biophilia a good reputation, in the name of education. Biophilia is humanity’s instinctive attraction to nature and the feelings of happiness and comfort that connection evokes. The school’s latest architecture and design give so many good examples of it, it’s hard to know where to begin.

Large open spaces in the reading pit at Rangi Ruru Girl’s School

Large open spaces in the reading pit at Rangi Ruru Girl’s School

But it’s good to start on the ground! Interface carpet tiles were used throughout the project, and the cubic colours of the Discovery Education Collection were designed specifically with nature in mind. Drawing on the principles of Biomimicry, the Discovery range asked ‘how would nature design a floor? Its innovative design is inspired by nature’s random repetition and organized chaos of colours and patterns found in nature.

For the overall inspiration for the buildings’ design, designers looked to biophilic principles and took cues from the surrounding natural environment, both the Canterbury Plains, a beautiful pastoral area just south of the city, and the majestic Southern Alps of New Zealand’s South island. Concrete on both the exterior and interior of the building has a grass-like pattern that alludes to the Plains. Inside, the design scheme purposely leads students up from a lower floor representing the Plains with earth-colour palettes to an alpine theme with blue and grey colours and even a layer of ‘cloud’ lights by Kiwi designer David Trubridge.

Natural finished tones on tabletops add vibrance to the school. Photo by Dave Richards

Natural finished tones on tabletops add vibrance to the school. Photo by Dave Richards

Nature is also in the shapes of the Gibson Centre, an oval-shaped building whose soft curves and rounded shapes are repeated in the interior in everything from bookshelves to seats. While designers and school administrators talk about the way these shapes create a social experience, gathering students together in friendship and interactions, it can equally be pointed out the way these ovals imitate nature’s lakes, clouds and organic forms.

Another commitment to nature is less visible: environmental features that make the school gentle on the earth, and part of the earth. Architect Craig Brown calls the building “a living, breathing giant science experiment”. Energy-efficient features include the use of natural light and ventilation, concrete slab walls and floors that allow heat exchange, and solar power. Green walls, living walls of plants, provide beauty and regulate the environment. Natural ventilation takes advantage of the area’s prevailing winds, designed to flow easily from one side of the building to the other, and be used for both heating and cooling.

Laptop stations are solar powered making the building more sustainable. Photo by Dave Richards

Laptop stations are solar powered making the building more sustainable. Photo by Dave Richards

A teaching element is also incorporated. Digital displays show how much water and solar power are being used, as well as the weather! Charging stations for mobile devices are solar-powered. The entire architecture of the buildings is a lesson in energy-efficient design, providing a constant practical example of environmental principles and consciousness. Even the fact that the buildings were created to replace older ones damaged by the 2011 earthquake is symbolic of nature’s renewal.

A green wall combined with natural lighting and ventilation makes this a living building. Photo by Dave Richards

A green wall combined with natural lighting and ventilation makes this a living building. Photo by Dave Richards

The project’s architects were McIldowie Partners, based in Melbourne, a medium-sized architecture and interior design practice that draws on more than 70 years of architectural service, underpinning their work with Ecologically Sustainable Development principles

 

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