The Pā is one of the most complex project briefs completed in recent New Zealand architecture. With a wharenui at the heart of the design, the resulting building will create a unique on-campus experience for all who use the space.
The design gives life to the vision of creating a mana-enhancing campus, reflective of the University’s commitment to its students, staff and the future generations who will choose to work and study at Waikato. It also makes the wharenui a focal point in campus life, bringing it into the everyday activation of the campus. The unique complex draws on the carved maihi of the wharenui’s exterior to inspire the overarching shape and form of the building and bring many of the University’s key functions under one majestic roof.
The Pā provides a new University reception and office space for the Senior Leadership Team and creates a new home for Te Pua Wānanga ki te Ao, the Faculty of Māori and Indigenous Studies. It also provides flexible teaching and learning spaces and a new student hub complete with a food court area, the home of day-to-day campus life.
Innovation the core principle
Architectural firms Jasmax, Architectus and DesignTribe are the three architectural design companies that have been responsible for taking University’s vision for the project and translating that into the innovative 7000 square metre building.
“When the University came to us they were clear that innovation was the core principle of the design brief for The Pā right from the start, and that’s what makes this project so incredibly interesting,” says Architectus Principal James Mooney.
“I think it would be one of the most complex project briefs in New Zealand’s recent architectural history,” says James.
The project showcases structural timber in the form of engineered wooden glulam beams, or glued laminated timber, a relatively new material in New Zealand commercial construction.
The beams give The Pā its unique shape, framing its roofline, or whakaruruhau, while also creating the unique foundation to the building’s internal fitout.
“The design has given us the chance to showcase structural timber and the ways it can be used in building design as we move to a lower carbon society. There is a definite shift happening in construction towards more timber and this project is a good illustration of how it can be used ,” says James.
Exposed glulam beams extend from the carved maihi of the wharenui at the centre of the development. The beams then reach up and out to create the space on either side of the wharenui for the new reception and offices for the Senior Leadership Team and the new student hub.
Refurbishing A Block
A steel building sits at the rear of The Pā connecting to the University’s existing A Block, the first building ever constructed on the University campus in 1964. The project has also completely refurbished and restored this building into new office space for Te Pua Wānanga ki te Ao on the upper level, with teaching and learning spaces and a space for Māori students ‘Te Pūtikitiki’ on the ground level.
Creating better accessibility between the University’s upper and lower campus, The Pā includes a connector bridge and lift tower extending from the student hub.
“The complex brings together a range of different construction techniques, including steel, concrete and timber, as well as the seismic upgrade of the existing A Block Building. Four building types are connected by the glue-laminated roof structure,” says Paul Lelieveld, Senior Associate at Jasmax.
Along with the technical challenges of making the building physically fit together, the architects also needed to give careful consideration to how all the multifunctional activities within the building could co-exist.
DesignTribe Director Rau Hoskins says the solution was found in the building’s unique roofline, encasing the wharenui within all the other activities happening around it.
“We had to be satisfied we could enable all the activities within The Pā to co-exist and we found we could do that by encasing them,” says Rau.
“Instead of having empty space between activities as you might have on a traditional Pā, we have reduced the spaces to walls allowing all functions of The Pā to carry on in privacy while the marae ātea and wharenui can fulfil its obligations for pōwhiri and formal events,” says Rau.
The design and development of The Pā has involved thousands of hours of consultation and deliberation with stakeholders. It has been carefully guided by the University’s specially formed Tikanga Advisory Group.
The Pā also has a carefully developed cultural narrative linking it to the history and heritage of the site and extending to the long-standing connections with Waikato, Tainui and the Kīngitanga and the iwi communities throughout the University’s extended catchment. This narrative will find expression in the carvings, tukutuku and other art installations that are being prepared for the building.
A bespoke brief
In keeping with the brief for innovation, almost every feature inside The Pā is bespoke, from multifunctional furniture to the huge windows – the largest ever handled in New Zealand –that frame the front of the wharenui. The design team even went as far as checking the colour palette for the internal fit out against actual kahikatea berries to ensure the building accurately speaks to the site’s history, the historic kahikatea forest Karipukau that once graced the ridgeline where the University now stands.
“Everything from the use of the timber to the carpet colour and bespoke furniture elements all tie back to that concept of the kahikatea forest,” says Paul. “It creates a feeling of standing within a forest, a representation of the site’s history.”
As the project nears completion the exciting part will be seeing the building function and become owned by the University’s community, says James.
“The Pā takes all the elements you usually find on a university campus in Aotearoa and brings it all together under one roof.
“As a member of that community, you’ll be brought into activities that you might not normally be part of on a campus and that is where the magic will happen. It’s a building that will create understanding simply through the unique moments that will happen in its life.”