We’re excited to see the School of Biological Sciences moving to the new building and the University’s science precinct, which will put science in the public eye and is a legacy for the future.Rodney Sampson
Te Toki a Rata, the new building for the School of Biological Sciences at Victoria University of Wellington, has been completed on schedule in time to open its doors for the 2018 first trimester.
Designed by Warren and Mahoney architects, the 12,500m2 facility on the Kelburn campus is a long, low, four-storey building that accommodates four undergraduate teaching labs, two ‘super labs’, and collaborative learning spaces.
“We’re excited to see the School of Biological Sciences moving to the new building and the University’s science precinct, which will put science in the public eye and is a legacy for the future,” says Rodney Sampson, lead architect.
The development aligns with the University’s strategy for growth and supports the Government’s aspirations to foster a prosperous, technology-driven New Zealand. Designed for the digital age, the school provides a highly collaborative workplace and future-proofed modern facilities for students, lecturers and researchers.
To achieve these multi-layered objectives, Warren and Mahoney undertook a comprehensive three-year research and consultation process with the science community, watching the way students, lecturers and researchers work, and visiting overseas establishments to ascertain international best practice.
The architects identified the need to open up connections between different fields of science to allow a cross-pollination of ideas. Sampson:
“Innovative research and learning is about people interacting so we aimed to break down the physical barriers between traditional science groups by providing stronger connections.”
Internally, the layout is flexible with minimal boundaries to ensure a blended research and learning environment that maximises opportunities for student/researcher engagement. The labs are well connected to the student spaces and not isolated or siloed,” explains Sampson.
Glass-walled laboratories mean undergraduates can see the scientists at work – and imagine what their own future might be like.
Spaces throughout the building can be reconfigured to suit the changing needs of the facility which future-proofs the school. Two ‘super-labs’ are large-scale, open, adaptable environments that promote increased collaboration and ‘flex’ between users groups, ensuring that teams can adapt quickly to best address emergent research projects.
“The screening that wraps the façade provides solar protection but its vertical profile is also suggestive of DNA markers – the integral building blocks in our understanding of biological science,” says project architect, Catherine O’Hare of Warren and Mahoney.
A cultural narrative also informed the architects’ thinking. The screening doubles as a contemporary expression of a ‘takitaki or palisade’, commonplace on marae and pa sites providing reference to the hillside location. Building details are layered and folded, all elements consistent with Maori and Pacific Island design.
Appropriately for a building which celebrates the biological sciences, there was a focus on sustainable materials and energy efficiency. The palette of timber, concrete and stone was, where possible, left natural to minimise the need for chemical coatings. The exposed thermal mass of the concrete retains heat, displacement ventilation keeps the spaces cool, and a narrow floor plate harnesses sunlight to provide a balance of comfort without excessive energy use. Tanks collect rainwater for re-use within the building and atriums inter-link interior spaces with the newly landscaped external environments to reinforce a connection to nature.
Te Toki a Rata is a critical gateway to the science precinct of the University. “It’s a dynamic yet permeable boundary,” says Sampson “that links visually and physically to the campus beyond.” A covered vehicle drop off and separate pedestrian entries were created while routes through the building and walkway links to existing infrastructure ensure it integrates with the campus as a whole. A centralised plaza between this gateway and the established buildings is a lively meeting hub for students.
Another focus for the building was to identify as integral to the Wellington landscape. Its folded façade references the topography of the site, and the curves of the ocean and land at the harbour edge. Its articulated form sets up a conﬁdent, open relationship between the capital and one of New Zealand’s premier teaching and research institutions.
“The design of Te Toki a Rata fosters innovation, brings more vibrancy to the city and contributes to growing the New Zealand economy through world-class science,” says Sampson.