New Zealand is facing some significant changes in education needs in the 21st Century. The Government has recognised that we need to “improve both the performance of individual school environments and the state school property portfolio*”. Challenges facing us in particular include a defective building remediation programme, repairing the damage caused by the Canterbury earthquakes, modernising an aging property portfolio, managing increases in the primary school student population and increased levels of student retention at secondary level*. A very high percentage of our school stock dates from the pre 1970’s, is located away from population growth areas, and is in a poor state of repair.

In addition to this, we are becoming a more culturally diverse society with increased global influences and a strong Pacific regional outlook. Rapid technological and environmental changes mean that there are new ways of teaching being explored with success, requiring a change in the way teaching spaces are configured and contained. 

The 2012 Budget includes provision for $1 billion of the Future Investment Fund to be directed to the schools sector for modernising and transforming New Zealand schools as part of the Government’s 21st Century Schools programme. How this will be invested will be informed by a significant nationwide review of school property management. A new strategic investment approach to school property is considered necessary to alleviate long-term cost and capital pressures. 

S&T are at the forefront of design development in the schools sector. We are working alongside the Ministry of Education, School Boards of Trustees and community groups to help define the buildings and learning environments that the next generation of New Zealanders will learn from. This enables our architects and engineers to collaboratively design asthetically pleasing and functional spaces and buildings while ensuring that the learning environments created are comfortable, well lit and ventilated for both students and teachers to perform at their best. 

As well as designing replacement and new schools and helping to assess the learning environment of our schools, we are involved in thinking on a higher level of how school design should respond to and support the changing needs of contemporary learning and teaching practices and the diverse range of pedagogical approaches to learning. 

School buildings should reflect the wide range of ways to learn. This means incorporating other approaches to teaching and learning other than the traditional European approach. S&T Principal, Murray Robertson explains how this worked at a recent project:

“At Upper Hutt College it was understood that some cultures have a more inclusive group-focused learning approach and that these learning methods could benefit all the students. Learning spaces were designed to encourage social interactions within large and small groups to promote the sharing of ideas.”

The provision of varied, flexible and functional spaces can promote active, student-centred learning. Varying-sized learning pods - both indoor and outdoor - can create exciting and inspiring teaching environments. At a recent project at Tawa Intermediate School, S&T designed a new library to provide a contemporary environment for students. This building is now the central learning support centre of the school, attached to the main block of the school, around which other learning spaces are arranged and linked by a ‘learning street’. As Murray explains:

“The library is in many ways the town square of learning for the school - an open flexible space to be used for individual, group work and presentations. There is also access to computers, distance learning and multimedia. And it is not just for the students. Teachers do their work here, too“.

Strong indoor-outdoor connections can create quality outdoor learning spaces that are continuations of the indoor spaces. Ready visual access between indoor and outdoor spaces provides efficient overall visual surveillance for the entire school environment - creating a school where people feel both safe and connected to one-another.

“The design of the new Special Needs Unit at NaeNae College makes the external spaces just as important as the internal. In collaboration with the landscape architects, Moorhead and Newdick, the entire building focuses down a learning street circulation to a large outdoor green space. Traditionally Special Needs Units have been very inward looking. Here we provide a strong connection with the external spaces while still ensuring student safety and security is achieved. The floor pattern is continued externally with coloured poles that support a canopy continuing out into the landscape to support play and learning equipment.”

A school is a community resource. Schools provide a focus for community endeavours and activities, and allow for mutual growth of community and school life with the resulting development of a sense of place and local identity for all. Recognising this crucial imperative, our school designs aim to create a “heart” for the community. We want to evoke civic pride with schools that embody the spirit of the place and the people. This often means that communities become a part of the process of design through design workshops and consultation, the end result being better informed by and aligned to the particular nuances of the school’s community.

Successful schools create a “sense of belonging” that encourage students, staff and the wider community to take ‘ownership’ of them. They provide a means to life-long learning by all, and actively require the involvement of parents and whanau in the life of the school, its pupils and extra-curricular activities.

S&T Principal Paul Raven has been working with the principal and key stakeholders at Clayton Park School in Auckland to realize their dream of developing an Administration Block and Hall that will become the focus for their community.

“By providing multi-use space that embraces the local cultures of the surrounding neighbourhood which is accessible for various community events, we are aiming to instill a sense of neighbourhood pride.“

Buildings and outdoor spaces must be learning tools in themselves. One way to teach the next generation to respect the natural environment and preserve our precious natural resources is to embed the architecture into nature. This can create open, passive learning environments where classroom doors open onto green outdoor spaces with plenty of natural light and ventilation. At Marina View School in Auckland our architects are redeveloping an existing outdoor courtyard to do just this, to create a space where groups of children can gather in a safe environment and enjoy the outdoors.

The school is also now a model of reuse and sustainability, in the face of the obviously disappointing weather-tightness failures. Paul Raven comments that:

“This particular project has required an innovative approach to reuse the foundations of buildings beset with weathertightness issues. We have managed to create a building that delivers a truly modern learning environment within the footprint of the old building, setting a precedent that can be followed in many schools to both contain capital cost and minimise environmental impacts”.


The Stephenson&Turner team believe the next decade will see our schools returned to models of advanced learning within sustainable, healthy, safe and community-led environments. We are relishing the challenge and opportunity to shape and positively influence the children of today as New Zealanders of tomorrow, through our attention to what matters in their schools. School buildings must not be thought of as just classrooms – our children deserve a deeper level of thinking that provides them with the best learning environment possible, at every school.

For more information on our current school projects, please contact Paul Raven at 09 920 9506 or Murray Robertson at 04 894 4717.

* The New Zealand School Property Strategy 2011 - 2021