Itself emerging from an ecological paradise of wild-growing gardens and native bush, the Three Trees Learning Centre in Rollueston, Christchurch, New Zealand, designed by CASA (Collingridge and Smith Architects), employs sustainable design as a teaching tool to supply students with an environment that encourages education and overall development by way of a natural discovery approach. A central quality of the pupil’s pedagogy is that the building structure had to play the role of the child’s extra instructor, or an environmental steward. Therefore, the centre was designed to illustrate this concept, providing a smooth transition between the child’s built environment and the outdoor environment. Licensed for 130 students and boasting a complete built area of 634 sqm, the school combines natural materials, exquisite forms and interactive playsets to engage growing psyches.

Located adjacent to a reserve, the canopy of aged trees surrounding the building was interpreted in an architectural sense through the sculptured modulation of the roof canopy. Collingridge and Smith Architects devised a highly varied geometry, adorned in cedar, which shines radiantly forth with the dappled light of the trees, designing a warm, welcoming transitional spot between class spaces and the woodland exterior.

The purpose-built centre consists of six large classrooms built into pairs to implement a trio of primary learning hubs, thus illustrating the three tree pedagogy. The hubs share services and art areas, fostering communication between children. The leaf-strewn landscape stands as an ethereal background for the internal colour palette of softer blues, ivories and natural materials – a soothing colour scheme ideal for rest and reflection. The classrooms offer custom-made furnishings so that every place is different and uniquely kid-friendly.

The school has been designed to render the natural ventilation above and beyond New Zealand’s building code standards. This natural airflow is created by way of a stacking effect, the place at which high level skylights positioned at the rear of the building permit daylight to infiltrate and supply air extract. A great portion of the façade is heavily glazed, supplying passive solar gain. Seasonal overheating is prevented through a combination of natural ventilation and roof canopy shade.

Natural daylight filters into classrooms to a level three times above the minimum required for code, rendering artificial lighting obsolete during the day. All materials are sustainably sourced and sport eco-label certification or low or zero voc/formaldehyde. To preserve the native bush, a portion of the playground remains unaltered, creating an organic natural environment for kids to investigate-an ideal spot for little ones to create bug hotels and be educated about the rich diversity of New Zealand’s plantlife and wildlife.

Due to the fact that the worksite offered many sizable, aged trees, the building was positioned to maintain all but a few poorer specimens. Those trees that have been taken away have been recycled as bark chip and stepping logs. Stormwater on the site goes to soakage on the playground for the purposes of watering the planting – no rainwater travels offsite.