In the Media

Making Space for Learning

28 March, 2011

Making Space for Learning

Article Exert

The transformation of Mauku School, Franklin, New Zealand combines sustainability and fun in one design.  “The new landscape reflects the passion and enthusiasm of our staff and students” says Principal Angela Smith.
Hidden amongst green pastures Mauku School is only a half an hour drive from Auckland city. With 5 acres of open space the school has a quintessential rural kiwi feel.  At morning tea time students follow the colourful curves of their new courtyard disappearing amongst large trees and into the surrounding landscape.
However the school grounds weren’t always this picturesque. “The old grounds did not function cohesively.  There was no linkage between the school’s entrance and the outdoor space around its four classrooms, the cesspits were blocked and drainage was an issue” says Natural Habitats Designer. “By analysing the way the kids used their space we were able to design a landscape which utilises spatial hierarchies and transitional connections between areas, 
to create a cohesive space  with a range of functions.”
The new design also integrates well with the rest of the school grounds which are a verdant collection  of nooks, crannies, fields and play spaces. “We chose Natural Habitats because we were confident with their initial plan, manner and their grasp of our requirements and deadlines” says Angela.  
Sustainability was also high on the design agenda.  The school has no maintenance staff so the design had to be low maintenance.  “We rely on our students, teachers and the wider community to care for the school” says Angela.  It seems the students agree with her; “I am going to look after our new gardens because they are beautiful” asserts Niko, 7.  
The design also reinforces the importance of utilizing school grounds as a site for child development. The importance of play and playscapes in promoting connectedness to nature has been well researched and documented. At Mauku school the vibrant  concentric concrete paths which create play eddies; rain swales, which  collect storm water and drain into the fields; beautifully crafted circular deck  and native planting palette complete with fruiting trees, all encourage environmental learning and play.  
The new outdoor space at Mauku School has become part of the fabric of learning, and the kids love it. The landscape was installed over the Christmas break in time for the new school year and “the new term has seen kids jumping over the corokia hedges with renewed vigour; they are fascinated by the little rock rivers (swales) and  leaf shapes of the Pseudopanax ferox” notes Angela.   
However the last word on Mauku School’s new  landscape goes to the kids; “everyone who comes into our school goes WOW.”