Thorndon School

Education in an urban context

On a complex, compact site in Wellington’s central city, McKenzie Higham Architects’ redevelopment of Thorndon School - Te Kura o Pipitea - illustrates how clever design can maximize the value of every square metre.

The school’s redevelopment saw 8 of 10 existing buildings demolished and the creation of 13 learning spaces, entry, administration, library, and leadership and staff areas. The result is a community of flexible-use learning environments including comfortable functional spaces for staff and a welcoming entrance.

The new learning studios form two ‘arms’ wrapping around a central courtyard, with existing trees and playground, that is the heart of the school. The multilevel flexible-use studios offer a variety of connections to the outdoors; a deep veranda overlooking the playground, doors opening to the courtyard and a sheltered urban play-space, with a colourful Andrew J Steele graffiti mural. Careful consideration of outdoor space on the compact inner-city site maximised its use for outside learning and play areas and clear circulation routes.

The school’s exterior is a cluster of buildings linked by robust shapes and materials. Black joinery and vertical long-run metal cladding, white plaster walls, and decorative timber elements present a sophisticated palette.  Inside spaces use a subdued palette of natural materials including ply paneling and exposed concrete, with strong bursts of colour in break out spaces to add vitality and delineate activities. Engagement with Mana Whenua lead to Te Reo naming conventions, poutama graphic design elements and statement entry signage to Te Kura o Pipitea.

Thorndon School’s new buildings sit comfortably in their urban context, yet are modest in scale and respectful of their immediate neighbours. The development is a thoughtful assembly of components with a coherent language of materiality and colour that creates a campus with a welcoming informal ambiance.

Project Location - Thorndon, Wellington, NZ

Thorndon School studio with breakout spaces
Thorndon School Entrance
Thorndon School central courtyard
Thorndon School new entrants courtyard with Andrew J Steele mural
Thorndon School covered walkway
Thorndon School studio with wet play area
Photography by Paul McCredie
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