Arresting design for Rotorua's new police headquarters

A police headquarters can be daunting to even the best behaved citizens, and seen as a negative place to many – often overshadowing the important work that takes place inside.

Te Amo Whakarururuhau

Leuschke architects has challenged that perception with their design of Rotorua’s state of the art $18.5 million police station, Te Amo Whakaruruhau.

Keeping the community in mind, the architects celebrate and reflect the city’s culture and aspirations through the building in a specific and eye-catching manner. 

“We wanted to have a balance between a building that is hardworking and one that is welcoming and has positive associations; a building for the community to engage with and take pride in,” says Colin Leuschke, director of the architecture firm.

Inspiration comes from the city’s history and people, referencing its significant Māori culture, and unique environment of geothermal activity. “What we like the most about this building is that it could only belong in Rotorua," says Colin.

He speaks of Māori architecture as anthropomorphic, just like a human body. “We were determined to treat the building like a living organism – the ridge bean of the building its spine, and rafters as its ribs."

Rotorua police station, Te Amo Whakaruruhau

The exterior of the building further references Māori architecture. Leuschke architects originally designed the shape of the extended 84-metre long screen with the help of the community. Their input inspired the idea to have the screen resemble various forms of Taonga, such as the Kite (Manu Tukutuku), a bird with outstretched wings, as well as the Tata/Tiheru (canoe bailer). It's this screen that gives the station its identifiable profile.

Just as a Korowai (Māori ceremonial cloak) drapes and protects its wearer, so does the screens, symbolising the role of the police to protect and defend the community. There was also an initial idea for the screen to act as a beacon, to be recognised as a safe haven in times of crisis.

Such cloaks often tell a story of its wearer. Colin says: “We had famed Māori artist Lyonel Grant weave the different generations of local iwi’s mythology into the pattern of the screens, laser cut into a contemporary aluminum Korowai."

Rotorua police station, Te Amo Whakarururau

And such a contemporary design references tradition rather than repeating it. “The entry is extremely small and of human scale. It sits under the buildings eaves, much like in a Wharenui (Māori meeting room)," says Colin. 

Rotorua police station, Te Amo Whakarururau

The formation of the building was structured with the new PRESS (pre-cut structural seismic system), adopted as an alternative to the conventional reinforced concrete frame. It was the first time such a system has been used on any building in New Zealand. The building has increased stability and an ability to sway, meaning the structure is able to withstand major earthquakes and other natural disasters, while also allowing for easier recovery and repair.  

The interior of the building is of impeccable design and includes just over 190 desks, three tea bays, two kitchens, one staff meal room, five ground floor interview rooms, five meeting rooms and 14 breakout rooms.  There are also a number of rooms in which members of the community are able to use for free. “The police wanted to engage with the community while creating positive connections," says Colin. "These ‘community rooms’ were included in the design to help strengthen such a bond.”  

Rotorua police station, Te Amo Whakaruruhau

Response from the community has been quiet – which in this case means all is well. “You know straight away when you’ve done something wrong," says Colin. "These sort of communities can be very vocal and can have significant affects on such a design, but surprisingly they have been very quiet.  We must be doing something right."