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At 6000 sq m, the $22 million Te Pa Tauira is the largest timber-framed structured building by height and volume in New Zealand

Te Pa Tauira – the story behind the storeys

Walk into the ground-floor common room of Te Pa Tauira Otago Polytechnic Student Village and the first impressions are of massive laminated wood beams and warm, light-filled spaces, augmented by the laughter and chatter of the young people who call it home.

A mahogany pool table, a relic from a former staffroom, might seem a rustic contrast to the complex’s cutting-edge design and engineering, yet it also serves as an old-school embodiment of the sustainability principles that underpin much of the design of Te Pa Tauira.

Some residents are regularly drawn to that pool table, others to the main common room’s comfy sofas and television area as they settle into their new lives at Te Pa Tauira, which has a capacity of 231 beds with its mixture of dorm rooms, studios and apartments.

Since Te Pa Tauira opened in February, many residents (and visitors) have commented on the complex’s character, much of which has to do with its extensive use of exposed timber internally. However, to focus solely on this aspect of the building would be to ignore a broad range of innovative design, engineering and construction solutions.

Phil Ker, chief executive, Otago Polytechnic, praises the high standard of workmanship, outstanding design and sustainable principles of Te Pa Tauira. “We have set a new benchmark in student accommodation,” he says. “We wanted to design a contemporary student village that rivals the best student accommodation in Australasia, as well as other enduring, high-quality accommodation.”

NZ’s largest timber-framed building

At 6000 sq m, the $22 million Te Pa Tauira is the largest timber-framed structured building by height and volume in New Zealand. Significantly, it has a wooden lift shaft, differentiating it from other large wood-framed structures.

It is also the first student accommodation complex of its size to use prefabricated cross-laminated timber (CLT) panels, which are up to 80% lighter than concrete – and 100% sustainable.

“Sustainability was key for the client,” Ian McKie, director, Naylor Love Dunedin, says. “The building was completed following the principles of the Living Building Challenge. CLT went a long way to meeting the materials requirement, with the prefabricated panels using Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified timber.”

There was also very low waste, Mr McKie notes, adding the CLT structure had to satisfy sustainability criteria without adding extra costs.

A variety of textures, finishes and colour tones help manage the visual scale of the building

The building also utilises stone pile foundations, a concrete slab ground floor and external walls that are timber-framed and clad with a weathertight XPressclad system, with Swisspearl coloured fibre cement sheet cladding.

Designed by Mason & Wales Architects, the project was managed by Logic Group, with Naylor Love the main contractor.

Faster to build

Because of its CLT elements, the facility was significantly faster to build. Sections were prefabricated by XLam in Nelson and assembled like a giant jigsaw in Dunedin. Minimal propping and very little drilling or cutting onsite also made for a tidy and quiet building site.

The timber structure also meant the installation of services was far less challenging than with other structures. For example, a fitout traditionally would have to wait until cumbersome floor props are removed. However, the CLT system ensured there were no props, leaving areas open for various trades.

The pre-formed openings in the timber walls and floor also allowed all services to be coordinated prior to contractors starting onsite and their routes were pre-determined, making site installation efficient.

“This fast-moving project required meticulous planning by our site team to manage materials and labour – we were building full floors in a matter of days,” Mr McKie reflects.

A challenging site

Logic Group’s Sam Cadden points out the choice of site for Te Pa Tauira was not without its challenges. Logan Park, previously known as Pelichet Bay, then Lake Logan, was the second largest salt marsh in Otago Harbour (Aramoana is the biggest) until reclamation work began in 1913.

Given the geology of the area, a heavy rig was used to stabilise the site. Ramming aggregate chipping rocks into the ground in October 2016, it created 700 columns, on to which the first concrete foundation, for the West Wing, was poured in early 2017.

Beginning with initial groundwork in late 2016, construction took just 15 months to complete, the tight programme ensuring the facility was ready for Otago Polytechnic’s international and domestic 2018 student intake.

“The driving philosophy was to create a sustainable student accommodation block. This vision was a major contributor for the material choices made, from foundations and structure to carpet and paint finishes,” Mr Cadden explains.

“Otago Polytechnic, as a teaching organisation, has insisted that all the information attained during design and construction is provided on an open-source basis to ensure industry learning can be achieved from this prototype building,” he adds.

The CLT building frame is completely recyclable, and all the timber used on the project, including trusses and door trims, is from accredited FSC suppliers

“The CLT building frame is completely recyclable, and all the timber used on the project, including trusses, door trims etc, is from accredited FSC suppliers and ensures the carbon footprint of the building is minimised.”

Extensive heat loss and moisture analysis were undertaken to ensure the most efficient building envelope was achieved, while ensuring there would be no long-term cavity mould or moisture issues. “It is a highly energy-efficient building. As an example, bedrooms and apartments only require a 300 watt heater as a heat source.”

Design challenges

Te Pa Tauira comprises two accommodation wings. The West Wing has five levels of single, dormitory-style bedrooms (some of which have ensuites), while the four-storey East Wing has a mixture of studios and four-bedroom apartments. Each bedroom type can be configured as a fully accessible unit.

Connected by a central, glazed vertical link, the result is a variety of indoor and outdoor social and meeting spaces adjacent to the primary circulation spaces at ground level. In addition, shared lounge areas enjoy a northwest aspect on all levels.

Te Pa Tauira includes a variety of indoor and outdoor social and meeting spaces along with shared lounge areas

“The social interaction of village residents was a key consideration,” says architect Hamish Muir, of award-winning Dunedin firm Mason & Wales, New Zealand’s oldest architectural practice. “The project is also a reminder of what an amazing campus Otago Polytechnic has, including Logan Park.”

A particular challenge was the site’s location in an ‘urban landscape conservation area’ at the edge of Dunedin’s Logan Park Recreation Reserve. Mr Muir and his team therefore took special care to ensure the building would integrate with the surrounding environment.

Through careful positioning of the buildings and car parking onsite, Otago Polytechnic was able to maintain the mature trees that line the boundary of Logan Park and are integral to the continuity of the streetscape. The site also provides direct connection to the Otago Polytechnic Hub, across Harbour Terrace.

The predominant built form to the west and south of Te Pa Tauira is generally low, with a strong horizontal patterning. A similar form was therefore adopted for this building, with the overall bulk mitigated by the use of a staggered building plan and patterned colour scheme.

Apartment buildings of all types inherently generate a repetition of the windows required to provide lighting and ventilation to those rooms. However, the design of Te Pa Tauira aims to mitigate such repetitive, visual characteristics, Mr Muir says. “The length of the buildings has a staggered plan, where possible, to generate a form that is offset between different accommodation units, to modulate scale along the length of the buildings and provide depth and shape to the forms,” he explains.

“In addition, a variety of textures, finishes and colour tones help manage the visual scale of the building and diffuse the internal planning arrangements, while also blending into the surrounding environment.”

An artist’s vision

Artist Simon Kaan worked closely with Hamish Muir and Otago Polytechnic representatives to develop an external palette that is sympathetic to the trees and green spaces of the area, yet also offers a fresh, intriguing visual appearance.

“I liken the cladding of Te Pa Tauira to a cloak of leaves that is always shifting,” Mr Kaan says. “The idea was to reduce the scale of what is, effectively, a large-scale student village, so creating a sense of movement, a visual shift, was important.”

Mr Kaan has a long history with Otago Polytechnic, firstly as a student at the Dunedin School of Art (DSA), and also as Maori academic mentor within the DSA. In recent years, his role has broadened to include working to ensure Kai Tahu knowledge is embedded within Otago Polytechnic’s campus redevelopment plan, a series of major building works that began with a redesign of the institution’s central meeting place, the aptly titled Hub (completed in 2016).

Te Pa Tauira is the latest incarnation of that redevelopment plan. Yet it shouldn’t be seen as a standalone building. Originating from discussions with Otakou Runaka representative Tahu Potiki, and in consultation with Professor Emeritus Khyla Russell, the concept of ‘ara honohono’, or multiple connecting pathways, is central to an overarching theme that binds Otago Polytechnic’s ongoing redevelopment.

As he did for the interior (and landscaping elements) of the Hub, Mr Kaan has employed large-scale patterning, textures, colour and architectural detailing to Te Pa Tauira. “And the notion of a cloak of leaves expanding and contracting ties into the notion of what came before,” he says.

Mr Kaan is alluding to the fact that the area around what is now Otago Polytechnic’s campus was a point of intersection for previous generations of Kai Tahu. “There were trekking paths here, journeys both on foot and by waka, and bird migrations too,” he explains. “The idea of ara honohono fits intrinsically with the notion that education is a journey, and also reflects the way in which students pass through Otago Polytechnic.”

What’s in a name?

This sense of fusing the past with the present and future is enshrined in a range of names given to Otago Polytechnic by Otakou Runaka in 2017. The title ‘Te Pa Tauira’ was gifted, along with each of the names for the five floors – Hawea, Rapuwai, Waitaha, Mamoe and Tahu (these are names of the southern tribes who have migrated to the South Island at different times over several centuries).

The names for each level were inspired by a diary extract written by Hori Kerei (HK) Taiaroa. Born in the 1830s, HK was the son of Te Matenga Taiaroa, an important chief at Otakou whose name has been enshrined in the Otago Peninsula place name, Taiaroa Heads.

In one of his more personal diary extracts, written in Maori, HK detailed looking at a midden as he was walking along the beach at Taumutu. He described each layer of the midden, and concluded the midden was from the two tribes that preceded Kai Tahu – namely Waitaha and Kati Mamoe – based on the depth of the layered materials.

Reflecting HK’s thoughts, each level of Te Pa Tauira has been named as if the building were a midden.

Simon Kaan rejoices in the fact that all those involved in Otago Polytechnic’s redevelopment plans have embraced the concept of ara honohono. “In fact, there’s a real national momentum towards embedding Maori concepts within architecture and urban development,” he says.

“It’s exciting that Otago Polytechnic is part of this movement, and it’s a great opportunity to produce something of real significance.”

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