Designing sustainable educational buildings in New Zealand

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Unusually for a tertiary institute in New Zealand, Kahukura is made mostly of timber.

The last 10 years has seen over NZ$1.5 billion worth of new educational buildings constructed in New Zealand.

While population growth, particularly in Auckland, is a factor, a significant portion of the construction has been in Canterbury, replacing school or university facilities damaged beyond repair during the 2010 and 2011 Christchurch earthquakes.

In the tertiary sector, construction has also been driven by growth in student enrolments and research – especially in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. 

Across New Zealand, the need for redevelopment represents a real opportunity for change.

Around 85 per cent of NZ primary and secondary state-funded schools are outdated legacy campuses constructed to meet the post-war baby boom of the 1950s to 1970s.

Many schools, and some universities, have been patching over the need for additional space using temporary “prefab” classrooms. There is a significant body of work yet to do to align the vision for the future of education spaces with reality.

We know now that, while a great education is largely attributable to people, there is a proven correlation between the design quality of space and student outcomes.

The best of today’s new education spaces are highly innovative and ambitious in the way they have embraced the opportunity for new pedagogies and technology-supported learning.

They reflect their unique local culture, and implement sustainable design strategies, in parallel, to transform the whole experience of learning. New buildings are also becoming a strategic tool for institutional differentiation. 

Here are some examples that look at the ways we have designed to meet the aspiration of future-ready sustainable buildings.

Pegasus Primary is designed to use 40 per cent less energy than an equivalent 5 Star Green Star Education facility.
Photo courtesy of Stephen Goodenough

Pegasus Primary School – New Zealand’s first net zero energy school

Completed in 2014, Pegasus Primary School in Christchurch is New Zealand’s first net zero energy school. It is also the first primary school in the greater Christchurch region to fully embrace innovative learning environment pedagogy.

The drivers of the design were twofold – to support the Ministry of Education in generating the best possible design outcomes of New Zealand’s new state schools, and to give students first-hand experience of the possibilities of a world where buildings are capable of meeting their own energy requirements, while still providing a comfortable and inspiring learning environment. 

Around 85 per cent of NZ primary and secondary state-funded schools are outdated legacy campuses constructed to meet the post-war baby boom

Aiming beyond evaluation tools such as Green Star, in pursuit of optimising investment, energy performance, whole-of-life value and educational outcomes, Pegasus Primary is designed to use 40 per cent less energy than an equivalent 5 Star Green Star Education facility.

Features include 560 square metres of solar electric panels. Feeding five high-performance, low-maintenance closed-loop drain-back solar hot water systems, the electricity captured serves utility/toilet clusters and efficient air-sourced heat pumps for underfloor heating.

Designed to provide an estimated payback time of nine years using low-maintenance, durable and high-quality energy harvesting technologies, the design of this building has reduced the school’s carbon emissions by 100 tonnes Co2(e) per year.

AUT’s Ngā Wai Hono and Ara Institute’s Kahukura – Tertiary buildings as sustainable teaching tools 

AUT’s new Engineering, Computing and Mathematical Sciences (ECMS) building, Ngā Wai Hono (Auckland city campus, opened in 2018), and Ara’s Architecture and Engineering building, Kahukura (Christchurch, opened in 2017) are facilities dedicated to learning and research in fields with a high impact on the sustainability of our future built environment.

There was a driver in the design of both to use the building as a three-dimensional learning tool, where the structure and services are on display. 

Ara’s Kahukura was designed using performance modelling software. We have been using this type of analysis in our practice for the last 10 years. Using early performance modelling allows us to streamline operational efficiency over a building’s 50-plus year life span. Kahukura was designed to run 65 per cent more efficiently than if it was designed to current building codes.

Solar photovoltaic panels and solar hot water can supply up to 60 per cent of the building’s total energy and two-thirds of the hot water.

Façade screens form a high-performance light shield, designed to both protect from the sun and reveal views

The building is “Net Zero Energy Ready”. The net total annual energy savings compared to an existing block on the site equates to approximately $130,000 and a respective Co2 reduction.

Kahukura is also one of the country’s first built examples of a large-scale (three-storey 6400 sqm) timber building. Such use of innovative wood technologies including CLT positions NZ in line with countries worldwide who are increasingly using this material on mass scale.

AUT’s 18,000 sq m Ngā Wai Hono building is a major activator for a learning and research precinct showcasing AUT’s innovative and design-led approaches in technology disciplines.

Windows into plantrooms showcase the mechanical services design; and engineering students can “test” the BMS and airconditioning systems in the main project studio in the building, where they can experience the difference between these technologies in action.

Architectural features highlighting the low energy use of the building include an array of highly polished steel sun-reflectors at level seven of the 12-storey atrium, capturing afternoon sunlight from over the top of neighbouring structures and pushing it down into the lower entry levels of the building.

Façade screens form a high-performance light shield, designed to both protect from the sun and reveal views north towards the Waitemata Harbour.  

Mana Haoura provides a highly-sustainable campus “heart” to the South Auckland campus
Photo courtesy of Jason Mann

AUT Mana Hauroa – Integrated design 

As the first university based in South Auckland, AUT South Campus redevelopment’s aim was to lift uptake of university education in Maori and Pacifica populations, as well as provide a highly-sustainable campus “heart”. The resulting building, Mana Haoura, opened in March 2017. 

A collaborative integrated design process allowed the design team to embed features that significantly reduce energy demands while achieving other key AUT objectives. 

Here, as around the world, young people are becoming ever more outspoken about combating climate change

Post-occupancy tuning has meant energy usage continues to drop. In March 2019, using the TEFMA calculation methods the running 12-month energy intensity for Mana Hauroa was 65 kWh/sqm compared with a NZ University 2016 average of 190kWh/sqm. 

Here, as around the world, young people are becoming ever more outspoken about combating climate change.

If today’s youth had the power to decide, what building standards would tomorrow’s buildings be required to meet? And what might the accumulated environmental and educational benefits be of replacing the remainder of New Zealand’s poorly insulated, energy-hungry educational facilities, with net zero energy, high performance buildings that students love learning in?

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