Making The Building The Classroom

Paris Magdalinos received the annual Award for Architecture, from the New Zealand Institute of Architecture as well as a Resene Colour Award, for his work on the Napier Girls High School. His passion has created a superb learning facility.

Napier Girls High School - New technology Block

Perched lightly on the brow of the hill, the new Technology Block at Napier Girls High School is a strong, gutsey building, which   required considerable courage for both The School and for the Ministry of Education to agree to implement.

Napier Girls High School is located on Napier’s hill and looks over the city to the South and Northward to a tranquil residential valley. The main school campus, dominated by Spencer House occupies the flat land to the south. Spencer house is the school’s much loved and historic Administration and classroom block which was the total school at its inception.
Below Spencer house the road divides the campus to the steep northern slopes below where only a handful of prefabs and timber frame classrooms once sat. The only sizeable structure, is the two storey gymnasium located on the only flat land available. Below that again, are the schools playing fields which enjoy a Northerly aspect which is protected from the vicious southerlies.
The design brief provided was for a development of some 3,500m2 of technology labs and classrooms to be located on the northern slopes of the site.

Design Considerations

The sheer size of the development required something more than “just a tower block” which would have dominated the historic campus and its residential neighbourhood. The architects considered several alternatives and in the end decided to “touch the earth gently” and build on top of the steep slope instead of terracing and to follow the contours of the hill and the shape of the road. This option maintains a scale and rhythm at the roadway edge in keeping with the neighbourhood. It also allowed the majestic Spencer Block to continue its hillside dominance.

The design then focused on the details and construction for a building which had to speak to 500 students, all eager to learn technology in one form or another.

Constructing the development above ground, on such a precarious site, suggested the loads be kept to a minimum, and to use a structure of steel, “post and beam” system,  bolted to concrete caisons or piles anchored deeply into the hard rock below.

The southern wall of the building is glazed at high levels, letting in cool, natural daylight to flood into the design and technology studios. It also provides upward views across the road to visually connect the main campus.
On the northern side, the building opens up to the warm sunlight from above and the playing fields below. Large sections of the walls of the laboratories and studios, open up to deep terraces or balconies which cantilevers some four meters beyond the classrooms and provide not only circulation, but integration and the much needed level external areas which would not otherwise be available on such a steep site.

Not wishing to design a building which in any way challenged the authenticity of Spencer Block, this development had to represent technology, the new millennium and a society which was now. The design is high-tech, youthful and fun. Stainless steel handrails and aluminium balustrades form the safety barriers while stainless steel frames and punched aluminium sheets provides a raised parasol offering relief from the sun. These details deliberately create inspirational patterns of light and shade, shape and form.

And so to the structure which was  ultimately intended to engage the inquisitive minds of technology students and speak of the technology of construction.

Steel columns, posts and beams all used effectively to demonstrate “technology at work”, while the layout and planning of the building encourages students to share in the discovery of innovation by making visual connections in three-dimensions, in what otherwise, might have become a standard two-dimensional classroom facility.

In the centre of the building, at its deepest section, the space opens up to provide a two storey atrium. This effectively engages six different classrooms, laboratories and study spaces each opening to the other encouraging students to cross fertilize ideas and develop the technology of their choice.

In all, the development has turned out to be a superb teaching and learning facility. Its long multi-storied structure, neatly positioned on a difficult steep site. It gives an  appearance of “just hanging” from the edge of the road. Within the structure the dominant skeletal steel structural members, are deliberately emphasised with planes of strong colour providing an energy conducive to its environment and its youthful occupants.

In all, its a fun place to learn.

Paris Magdalinos Architects Ltd, Napier.
Telephone: 06 835 6173.

Roofing Manufacturer: Dimond
Telephone: 0800 346 663
Telephone: 0800 DIMOND

Profile Dimond LT7

Roofing Contractor:
Martin Roofing

Roofing and Cladding:
Pacific Coil Coaters, Auckland.
Product: ColorCote®ZRX
Colour: Metallic Silver
Telephone: 09 579 9199

Photography: Clive Ralph
17 Cathedral Lane, Napier
Telephone: 06 835 7204