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Community design for kids scores a hit

When the Sandringham Plunket and Playgroup facility burned down as a result of arson one Guy Fawkes night, the community got together to write a brief for a redesign that would be innovative, flexible, contemporary, cost-effective and energy efficient. Strachan Group Architects (SGA) responded with a building for the Parakete Ora Sandringham Plunket that had the NZIA awards judges in awe. 

SGA Architect Martin Varney made sure the building was in use when they came to visit so they could see it in action and just how just well it worked with children teaming all over the place. They found it succeeded on many levels and the building’s owner, the Auckland City Council says this small, budget-driven project should be regarded as a benchmark for sustainable design.

Varney explains: “The whole place had to be both open and closed and quite a robust space.” 

A naturally lit “outdoor room” encourages year-round all-weather play. It also has an easy clean-up surface with decking flowing from the interior to the exterior. And a huge, opening clear acrylic sheet sectional folding door gives flexibility. The door can be shut in winter and it still lets in lots of light. In summer, it’s like a well-ventilated garage door that simply rolls away. 

Part of the roof is covered in clear acrylic panels that lets light inside in winter. Wrapping the building roof over the rear wall gives the building an economic envelope to work within, says Varney, which helped resolve the budgetary issue. 

The spaces for the playgroup and the Plunket nurse are separated by a waiting room that offers a spillover for children and mothers. Plunket offices have a nice aspect looking over the park. 

The architects knew the building would be hit with a lot of tagging and they had to devise ways to minimise the attacks. The design responds to the Council’s Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) policy with planting around the southern/eastern walls of the façade and fence which discourages graffiti. Random maacrocarpa battons fixed to the ply façade breaks up the walls to create “disturbed” surfaces designed to deter tagging. Varney also experimented with the efficacy of oils to discourage graffiti.   

Environmentally sustainable design principles feature in passive solar heating through retention of the winter sun heating the floor mass, passive cross-ventilation for summer cooling, “super-insulated” southern wall with no penetrations and external vertical slat screening of western windows to minimise heat from afternoon sun. 

Not only did Parakete Ora win a local NZIA Auckland branch award, but it gained a Resene Colour Award.  A modern interior décor is reflected through colour, linking Plunket’s logo colours of red, green and yellow on doors, carpet tiles and vinyl. Judges said this made it “cheerful and rich without being childish”.

Varney says the building is not only “bulletproof” but that “it’s so booked out that no more fundraising is needed. “One of the great things is seeing it used as you envisaged it.