There’s a new future showing its face on Portland and Remuera Roads at prestigious King’s School — it’s called the Centennial Building.
The brand new 5,000-square-metre Warren and Mahoney designed multipurpose learning environment is now officially open and an inspiring space that goes beyond pure function.
Over two years the state-of-the art structure has quietly risen up from an envelope of scaffolding. Today it connects the boys, the school, the staff and the local community to a new teaching world.
Enter from Remuera Road to jaw-dropping floor-to-ceiling panoramic views framing Rangitoto — a line of sight from the classroom that previously never existed. Welcome to best practice pedagogy in action.
“The boys are lucky to be here so we have a responsibility to create what the future will look like,” says the principal, Tony Sissons. He takes the responsibility of being “in the business of creating boys’ futures” very seriously.
Sissons praises Warren and Mahoney for their willingness to completely understand “the educational end” and how boys relate to their teachers well before any design process took place.
He says the collaboration removed the “architectural pressure” to build a big barn known in the industry as a “modern learning environment” which Sissons is adamant is not “actually the way to go”.
Evidential research from Melbourne University underpins his strong view supporting the benefits of flexible spacial design around education processes and how it positively impacts on relationships.
“There is a lot of research now indicating that boys learn their teacher before they ever learn a subject.” Gone are the days of the “factory regurgitation of facts” the principal says, today “thinking, better questioning and better pedagogy” are the rule.
He believes cultivating a strong relationship creates “deeper learning”. It’s achieved by the correct homeroom environment that offers flexibility between formal and informal spaces and the ability to accommodate varying modes of learning.
This is what the Centennial Building excels at — it’s in the building design, landscaping, materials, ergonomic furniture and even in the acoustics.
Lead Architect Sarah Hewlett-Diprose, who is a passionate committee member of Learning Environments New Zealand as well, has masterminded with her colleagues, a unified educational ecosystem.
She zeroes in on the fact that the workplace has evolved so consequently architects need to create learning environments that support soft skills these days — skills such as collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity.
Looking at the complexity of the cross axis of the floor plan that connects four existing buildings, the building achieves the best of both worlds for the boys.
Generously sized classrooms can be set up whatever way a teacher chooses to teach to create different learning environments tailored to the child.
There are break out spaces with varying degrees of enclosure using acoustically separated stackable glass doors or simple recycled timber fins made from the Kauri rafters of the former Hanna building on site.
Teachers here do not fall into the trap of standing and delivering as there is no definitive front of class. They interact with students in any part of the room using teacher ‘nooks’ not desks and mobile learning stations with writable whiteboard surfaces.
“Engagement is how the teachers build relationships as opposed to the traditional concept of the teacher is the master and the boy sits there and does what he’s told.” This ethos is echoed repeatedly throughout the design.
By all accounts, it’s hit the mark too with industry peers by being shortlisted for both the Institute of Architects Education Award and Property Council of New Zealand national awards to be announced later this year in June.
Sarah points out the “connection points” — how the existing was integrated with the new, where bridges and voids link horizontally and vertically to cleverly create a sense of “cohesiveness and legibility” with the wider campus.
No bigger than an apartment block to sensitively merge in with the local neighbourhood, Centennial “invites the community in” — which is a key shift “especially in terms of private education due to a move away from the fences that would normally screen off the campus” Sarah says.
Seeing the building come to life with students enjoying themselves “using the spaces in ways you hadn’t imagined” — relaxed, feet up reading their book on a lounger has been the lead architect’s reward.
Tony Sissons says he too gets a “buzz” from watching the impact of the new build on his teachers which flows on to the boys.
“We don’t know yet what the future looks like but the skills these boys can develop now to meet it, are vast. We need to build that capacity within them so they can apply them in the future. We must not lose the art of good teaching practice and our Centennial building complements and extends what we offer,” says Sissons.
Words: Sarah Sparks