Celebrating the Beauty of Timber

5 December 2023

Kelly Deeks for Business Central: Green School New Zealand’s new junior school classroom block, the Kina, has won its designer BOON a category win and the Supreme Award at the 2023 Timber Design Awards, for an exemplary design that clearly demonstrates the beauty, efficiency, and sustainability of timber.

BOON managing director and project lead Glenn Brebner says timber design and construction is considered the ‘child in the room’ when compared with concrete, the grandad of the industry, and steel, which has hit its mid stride as the dominant form of commercial construction. Exciting things are happening in the timber space now in terms of research and innovation, however recognition for such things can sometimes favour the metropolitan centres with larger populations where most of that work seems to be happening.

“So for us, a reasonably sized practice in provincial New Zealand, we’re really happy to have won a top national prize for a project like this. It reinforces that not all the good stuff happens in the metropolitan centres, and there is some talent well distributed around the country.”

BOON has been working with Green School since 2019. Glenn says as he stood in an empty paddock, the school was taking enrolments and telling their school community they would be open for term one in February 2020. “We thought these guys think big, we can get on board with that. We designed and built Stage One, comprising three waka or classrooms, in one year. It was like time travel.”

The Kina was still a couple of years away but these NZIA award winning floating class room pods, or waka, are a sight to behold in themselves. With smooth and organic form, these waka provided Green School with a clearly identifiable brand and set the scene for the ongoing design and development of the school.

“Industry innovation is happening in line with this kind of sustainable building,” Glenn says. “It’s looking at the carbon embedded within the construction system, and the amount of waste that is too often a function of that same carbon-heavy system. Green School by definition and necessity had to be across these areas.”

With the Kina project, BOON has taken out nearly all the corners and created a soft form to effectively round off the students’ learning experiences and physically nod to Green School’s ‘Without Walls’ philosophy. Curved timber is a predominant feature in the circular building which drew inspiration from forms in nature like interlocking hexagons of beehives, and radiating leaf and flower shapes. Each geometric system explored was an enclosed circular form which is translated here as a central courtyard and sheltered outdoor learning space.

Glenn and the BOON team worked closely with the timber suppliers and fabricators on these projects, a collaborative response to the comparatively new technologies being employed to create greater value for the timber New Zealand grows so well. They had to understand from the suppliers the technicalities and capabilities of the product, and then design around those technicalities and capabilities. 

“Because it’s a new system, we’re pushing it all the time. Can we do this with timber? How do we do it? As soon as a building is lighter, it needs smaller foundations. Since the Christchurch and Kaikōura earthquakes, a larger proportion of the cost of new buildings is going into the ground in the form of heavy foundations. Timber construction significantly reduces superstructure weight and with it, the size and cost of foundations. Concrete and steel still have their role to play, but timber is giving us the chance to touch the ground in a lighter, more sustainable way.”

Source: BOON and Business Central magazine

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