Consensus Design Workshop Titirangi Rudolf Steiner School (Auckland, NZ): 2011

Before starting the process, I met with teachers to clarify what I would work on. Consensus didn’t seem their strong point. Everyone had different ideas. I managed, with some difficulty, to simplify this: needed urgently were a 300 sq. m. flexibly divisible space (probably in the ‘clay-pit’) a temporary upper-school classroom, two early-childhood rooms (and another within two years). No budget (there being no money) but achievability was essential. I thought it prudent not to admit that the demands were daunting.

After briefly introducing the process, we walked the property (me in a wheelchair,) gathering first impressions, then met to share these. The overriding impression was ‘confusion’ (which the brief had already reflected). There being five distinct mood-places (entry area, classroom courtyard, early-childhood ‘street’, field, and bush-dominated land beyond), we divided into groups to look at what was physically there: a large car-park leading to a damp meadow; (a quarter of which was solid-fenced off, obscuring a deep pond-bottomed pit); a courtyard of ex-hospital wooden buildings; some other similar ones; a eurythmy hall (somewhat apart); the ‘clay-pit’ quarry (actually a hill: more confusion!) 200m beyond this, and much ‘bush’ on steep (unstable) slopes. We then discussed the place’s history and likely future (e.g. impact of petroleum scarcity). Next, we looked at its gestures and spatial ‘flow’. The 5m access road (10m with verges) broadened through car-park and meadow – an unchecked avenue; the classroom courtyard turned its back on this; and the eurythmy hall was so much to the side that its kitchen seemed the obvious entrance. We then observed moods-of-place: the entry experience, car-dominated and unwelcoming; the classroom courtyard, a heart; the rest, forgotten. Now we asked: what did the place say? Again: confusion. What did it ask for? Coherance and welcoming mood.

We started the next (and every subsequent) day with recapitulating where we had got to, then asked: what should the place say? Joy and inspiration. What moods would serve this? Welcoming invitation at the entry, social warmth in the courtyard, and magic in early-childhood realm. What gestures would serve these? Containment in the car-park; and unity between, and inviting paths to, far-flung parts. What did this mean physically? Thresholds (tree-arches and paving-strips) and view-stops (shrubs and trees) in the entry realm; sense-rich curved paths; reception office (encapsulating everything the school stands for) astride the arrival view-axis to hold everything together; early-childhood as a destination, linked to upper school (in the existing barrack buildings); classrooms forming a circle of age-progression; the pond as a (safe) landscape asset; and the school drawn together, not in the far-flung clay-pit. From this condensed the master-plan. The development sequence was also clear. Moving activities around would give a year’s breathing space. Once an early-childhood room (its cost offset by eco-building courses) was in use, state funding would arrive. Assured cash-flow would let the whole development unfold.

We then worked with relevant teachers on one building/place per day: three early-childhood classrooms, the 300 sq. m. building, and the entry realm. Whereas holding back from decisions had initially felt slow, we now felt we had achieved six month’s work in nine days.

School website: http://www.titirangi.steiner.school.nz