- Architect In Charge : Phil Smith
- Design Team : Yolande Kromhout
- Clients : CPMC
- Playground : Natural Habitats
- City : Christchurch
- Country : New Zealand
Text description provided by the architects. Surrounded by wild gardens and native bush, the Three Trees Learning Centre in Rolleston, Christchurch utilises 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 sqm, 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 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 3x better than NZ Building Code standards. This natural airflow is enhanced through stack effect, where high level rooflights 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.