Grand design to improve access to education in South Auckland
“The design blurs public space and internal domains to express openness and informality – an invitation to the community to freely enter, a neutral framework that will be filled by the life of MIT and its surrounding community." Blair Johnston
NZ DESIGN FIRST: NEW MIT CAMPUS COMBINES TEACHING FACILITY WITH TRANSPORT HUB
In a New Zealand design first, the new Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT) campus integrates a teaching and study facility with an Auckland Transport railway station – a strategic initiative to increase the accessibility of tertiary learning in South Auckland.
The Warren and Mahoney design for the 19,427m²  building in Manukau, which opened Friday 20 June 2014, features a seven level building, with floors circling a soaring six storey public atrium space. The basement floor opens into a rail platform, with a direct line connecting to the Auckland city centre.
Blair Johnston, lead design architect for MIT and Executive Director of Warren and Mahoney, says the train station entrance within the building itself is an opportunity to increase public participation in tertiary education – “bringing commuters into the heart of MIT and exposing its programmes to the widest possible audience.”
The ground floor is intended as public space; for commuters to freely enter and cross on their way to the train line, with retail spaces and cafes provided around the exterior of the building. With the addition of the bus interchange in the future, the complex is envisioned as the second largest rail transport hub in New Zealand.
Says Johnston: “The design blurs public space and internal domains to express openness and informality – an invitation to the community to freely enter, a neutral framework that will be filled by the life of MIT and its surrounding community.
“The ambition is for this space to become embedded in the ‘mental map’ of people in the Manukau CBD and beyond. The building is designed to be a cultural destination – a centre for meeting, events and arts, a platform of transportation, and a place where the possibilities of learning are discovered.”
During the design process, MIT and Warren and Mahoney worked in partnership with Auckland Council and Auckland Transport, and in consultation with representatives from Maori, Pasifika, and local communities, MIT staff and students.
Dr Peter Brothers, Chief Executive of MIT, says the goal was to break down the “the geographical, societal, and personal barriers between institution and community.”
“We want to show the people of Manukau the reality of study, to enable access to vocational education that will lead to better work, and a better life.”
“Weaving the train station, bus interchange and education institution together is our way of welcoming people into the space, encouraging people to look around and interact with the building without barriers. If the travelling public can see members of their own community studying, it’s a daily reminder that this education is a real, accessible possibility for them too.”
“It’s important that we’re not in an ivory tower; we want to be woven into the community. If people see it as their space, rather than MIT’s building, then the project will be a success,” says Brothers.
- Public access: The ground floor is public space – the life and activity of the students and public is clearly visible from the outside. This visual openness also supports engagement with the community, creating a welcoming destination.
- Sustainability: The building is a 5 green star project. The design employed new initiatives, technologies and materials to create a low carbon footprint.
- External columns: To create an open and unobstructed interior, the building’s columns are external: 5 storey ‘diamond brace’ columns, steel beam lines, horizontal sun shading and different styles of glazing. The layout creating a complex, repeating pattern that is evocative of not one, but many cultures and points of view
- Open interior: The heart of the building is its soaring six storey atrium – a significant spatial device which integrates the desire for open, connected, flexible floor plans; with the technical and structural challenges of building over a rail trench.
- Learning spaces: The interior is flexible, to adapt to continual changes to learning and education over the next decades. The design revolves around the ‘flipped classroom’ concept – making space suit student interaction and engagement, rather than a traditional lecturer-orientated format.
- Adaptable spaces: The architecture provides a neutral framework (“the coathanger”) that will be filled by the life of MIT and its surrounding community (“the clothes”). The visual identity of the building is adaptable, flexible and representative of a diverse community.
- Train station: Pedestrians enter the station at ground level through a double height main entrance lobby, signposted with an electronic departures board. A full-height glazed screen provides access to each platform, and significantly reduces noise between levels.
- Materials: A palette of stone, timber, glass, steel, with natural and durable high quality surface finishes. The materials take direct cultural references and craft patterns.