Surrounded by wild gardens and native bush, the Three Trees Learning Centre in Rolleston, Christchurch uses sustainable design to provide children with an environment that fosters learning and growth through a natural discovery approach.
A core part of the client’s pedagogy is that the building acts as the child’s third teacher, or an environmental steward. The centre has been designed to reflect this pedagogy, creating a seamless transition between the child’s built environment and the outdoors.
Licensed for 130 children and with a total built area of 634 square metres, the centre incorporates natural materials, unique shapes and interactive play apparatus to intrigue, motivate and excite young minds. Situated next to a reserve, the canopy of mature trees that surround the building are translated architecturally through the sculptural modulation of the roof canopy. The varied geometry, all clad in cedar, reflects the dappled light from the trees, creating a soft and warm transitional space between classrooms and the outdoors.
The purpose-built centre features six spacious classrooms arranged into pairs to create three main learning hubs, reflecting the Three Trees pedagogy. The three hubs share services and art spaces, encouraging interaction between groups of children. The classrooms all open out onto the playground and garden. The leafy landscape forms a vibrant backdrop against the interior colour palette of soft blues, white and natural materials – a relaxing colour scheme perfect for rest and quiet times. Classrooms feature custom-made furniture so that each space is unique and carefully considered for the children who will be using it.
The building has been designed so that the natural ventilation is three times better than NZ Building Code standards. This natural airflow is enhanced through stack effect, where high level roof lights at the rear of the building allow daylight to enter and provide air extract. Much of the façade is extensively glazed, providing passive solar gain. Overheating in the summer is prevented by natural ventilation and shade from the roof canopy. Natural daylight fills classrooms to a level that is three times over the minimum for code – artificial lighting isn’t needed during daylight hours. Materials are responsibly sourced and feature eco-label certification or low or zero VOC/formaldehyde.
To help reinstate the native bush, part of the playground has been left untouched, creating a wild, natural environment for children to explore- a perfect place for children to make bug hotels and learn about the diversity of New Zealand plant and wildlife. Because the site featured so many large mature trees, the building was carefully placed to retain all but a few poorer specimens. Those that were removed have been repurposed as bark chip and stepping logs, so nothing was wasted. Any stormwater on the site goes to soakage in the playground for watering the planting – zero rainwater goes offsite.
The exterior has been designed as entirely timber to complement its lush, green surroundings - merging together the built structure and the natural landscape. Resene Waterborne Woodsman in Resene Natural was chosen to enhance the natural warmth and character of the timber cladding, which can really be seen when it glows in the sun. The stain has been applied to both the cedar cladding and plywood roof canopy, linking together the two timber types to create a cohesive appearance.
The interior features a palette of Resene Nebula, eighth strength, through the entrance and staff spaces, Resene Half Duck Egg Blue in the classrooms and Resene Double Alabaster in wet areas. The use of soft blues and white creates a relaxing and harmonious colour scheme when matched with the natural ply furniture that features throughout the classrooms. Staff and non-contact areas feature the soft and calming shade of Resene Nebula which helps create a quiet, restful place for teachers. Circulation spaces are painted in Resene Double Alabaster, with green walls and high windows adding natural light and drama to the space. Wet areas are painted in Resene SpaceCote Low Sheen in Resene Double Alabaster, while remaining walls throughout are in Resene Zylone Sheen.
To reflect the building’s sustainable design philosophy, the selected Resene paints and stains are low or no added VOCs and feature the Environmental Choice NZ approved label. This is also important in ensuring healthy environments are created for children and staff.
Architectural specifier: CASA
Building contractor: Bindon Construction
Engineering consultants: Agile Engineering Consultants
Other key contributor: Jenny Tippet, Three Trees Learning Centre
Other key contributor: Natural Habitats
Photographer: Mark Scowen
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