The Circle Of Life

Te Kura Kaupapa Maori O Te Ara Hou. Napier

By Graham Hepburn

Napier architect Gary Pidd had done a lot of work for schools over the years but had never designed one from scratch. So when he was asked to design a new home for a Maori language immersion school, Te Kura Kaupapa Maori O Te Ara Hou, he leapt at the chance.
As Gary explains, “The school had set up about 10 years prior to us getting involved but it had no real home; it was using vacant schools as a base.”
When the former Wycliffe Intermediate School became available in a suburban part of Napier, the plan was initially to use the existing buildings but the discovery of asbestos meant the site had to be cleared and the school built from the ground up.
This gave the school and the parents a chance to express cultural aspects that were important to them in their new school.

Some of the key features were having the waharoa (gate house) facing east for the rising sun. And the entry to the whare (central meeting house) also needed to face the waharoa for powhiri (greeting).
The school also wanted to emphasise the concept of children entering the kohanga reo as babies and journeying around the school to leave at year 13 as young adults.
While creating a sense of community was important, the school still wanted the various age groups to have their own distinct spaces.
The school also wanted the central whare, rather than being a formal meeting house, to be a whare matauranga (house of learning).
“They didn’t want a formal meeting house because of all the Maori protocols that came with that,” says Gary.
The concept of a circular building came to Gary in the 10 minutes it took him to drive home from a brainstorming meeting with all those involved with the school. He roughed out a sketch once he got home and that formed the basis of the final design.
At the centre of the circular design is the whare matauranga, reflecting its importance to the school. Because the building could not turn its back on any part of the school, it had to have four fronts. One of these faces the waharoa for formal welcoming, and there is one entrance for the junior, middle and senior schools. This design reinforces the circle of life at the school and allows the building to be opened up on all sides when it’s used as a community venue.
To the north of the waharoa is the kohanga reo so that children enter the school as babies and then move around the circle of learning until they come out at the south end as young adults.
The smallest children are also in the safest place as they are nearest the Whanau room and furthest from the road.
Walkways between the classroom blocks provide a sense of separation and allow access to the play areas at the rear.
“The school wanted to encompass all these age groups but not mix them all up,” says Gary. “At the same time, the next class you go to is next door and you can see across the circle to where you will end up.”
Gary says the sense of enclosure provided by the circular design gives the students a feeling of togetherness and safety. It also helps that the whanau room is in a prime spot to oversee day-to-day events in the inner circle and this helps to keep the students on their best behaviour.
“It is noticeable how quiet the children are inside the circle versus outside in the playgrounds," says Gary. “You want the building to do a lot of the work for you.”
The whare matauranga has been designed as a bold, vibrant building with good acoustics where the children can express themselves in song and dance. It’s also used for meetings but the school didn’t want any technology in there.

 When it came to discussing construction materials, Gary says the school weren’t interested in going overboard on native timbers; they wanted to use materials normally seen in schools but treat them in an innovative way.

Longrun COLORSTEELl® was a logical choice for the roofing and with the help of computer technology, Gary was able to work out how to fashion the curved roof of the buildings and the covered walkway that connects them to form the circle. Tapered cap flashings – 10.6 tonnes in total - allow the runs of COLORSTEEL® to form the curve. More than 10,000 linear metres of COLORSTEEL® was used to roof the school’s various buildings.
The circle might be the dominant feature of the design but there are also other motifs included of significance to the school. They wanted to reflect their history of being people of the river plains so the buildings give the illusion of growing out of the ground due to the river stones plastered into their walls. The inclusion of the school crest of crossed paddles was also important and is signified by the paddles at the cornerstone to each building.
Gary says the school asked him to design the layout so that eight more classrooms could be added to the original 12 as the roll expanded. These additional classrooms would form part of an outer circle and so far four more have been built.
 “We tried to future proof it so all the services run outside the circle,” says Gary. “If you want to add another class on then you just plug them into the services in the trench.”
The school’s unique design is not only functional but is also a source of pride among students of all ages.
“The kids are pretty pleased,” laughs Gary. “They say they’ve got the biggest indoor track in the whole country.”

Gary Pidd Architecture Ltd.

Gary Pidd established the firm, Gary Pidd Architecture Ltd, in 1989. With a staff of 5 the practice prides itself on the personal aspects of client relationships which help establish clear design parameters. Gary’s design philosophy is based on satisfying the client but also pushing boundaries a little so that the spaces are interesting as well as comfortable. He values good planning, cost management, form that follows function for liveability, workability and comfort. And he’s a fan of using cutting edge technology to achieve these results.

Like any medium practice in New Zealand their portfolio ranges from commercial to residential projects from schools and churches to hospitality venues and homes. What is important to Gary Pidd, and the most rewarding, is to create architecture which is fun, bright, colourful and friendly with careful attention to the environmental aspects of the design.

Architect: Gary Pidd Architect,                                                                                 Telephone: 06 844 0223

Building contractor:
Atkin Construction,
Telephone: 06 843-4925

Roofing contractor:
HB Longrun,
Telephone: 06 843 6159.
Roofing profile:
Kliplok trough section
Flashings & Guttering:
125 x 140 Box guttering, fixed in segments to curved fascia.

COLORSTEEL® Endura Colour: Storm Blue