Linuwel Steiner School - Kindergarten

By Roger Ackland
public buildings

Linuwel steiner School, 133 Morpeth Road East Maitland NSW 2323

By: Roger Ackland Architects

General View Nearing Completion

How does the project respond to its context, contribute to the public domain for example street or neighbourhood?

Linuwel Steiner School is set adjacent to the Hunter valley flood plain on the edge of East Maitland.  The site of the Kindergarten within the campus affords filtered views to the north and west of predominantly low lying rural grassland.  Within the leafy site is a large dam surrounded by eucalypts and casuarinas.  Existing structures on the site included a hexagonal yurt and sheds of simple construction and materials.

The simple setting required a respectful approach.  This was achieved firstly by shaping the building footprint in the form of a segment of a halo with the focal point on the existing octagonal yurt. The yurt houses a preschool. Siting the new Kindergarten in this fashion contributes to the yurt's sense of security and creates a physical barrier to undesirable western sun and winter winds. Contextualising the unusual form of the Yurt gave it grounding. It became the nucleus for the future kindergarten and created a place that was integral within the new landscape.

The halo shaped footprint allowed the building to approximate the contours of the site and to squeeze between the existing Yurt and the nearby trees surrounding the dam.  The internal walls of the building wander along the actual contours of the site.  The opportunities created by the spaces that result from the difference between the actual and wandering are utilised for verandahs, covered entry areas and covered outdoor space.

The rough sawn timber finish to the building makes reference to the simple structures found in the rural landscape.  The large verandahs are reminiscent of those found on traditional country homesteads.

What problems did you have to solve?

The curved construction, born out of the site and the clients preference for no use of right angles, challenged the financial constraints of the project and construction practicalities. In cooperation with the builder, a rational steel structure that provided the framework for the wandering walls was required.  The main roof and floor sit on a grid and are geometrically simple by way of being arc segments on horizontal planes, supported on posts. Using relatively simple planes allowed the use of standard flat sheet products and consequently expensive customized solutions were avoided.

The use of a steel frame freed up the builder's resources so that they were able to complete multiple projects on the same site within the time constraints of the BER. Although being a small family business they were able to focus on site work while fabrication of the structure in the factory took place in the background.

Within the more rigid geometry of the floor and roof, the walls wander.  The detailing complexities of this were greatly simplified by using flexible timber products that could be easily shaped on site.  The builder having much experience in boat building was comfortable in delivering attention to detail.

What was the contribution of others, including engineers, landscape architects, artists, builders and other specialists to the outcome?

The project was a successful collaboration by the client, builder, architect and engineers. The skills and experience of  BAT constructions were pivotal in delivering a quality solution with a limited budget.  Roger Veness Consulting Structural Engineers and Macallum Hydraulics delivered their ever reliable services and were of great assistance with the technical problem solving.

The client, architect and builder worked cooperatively together to refine difficult details on site.

The importance of providing a sustainable building and low VOC solution for Kindergarten students was not lost on the project team and together the team achieved above average outcomes in these areas.

How would you describe the value of design in relation to the cost of the project?

The challenge created by the clients desire for non linear form required an innovative approach to current technologies.  The project team delivered a design solution that has exceeded the clients expectations both aesthetically and functionally.

What are some important sustainability aspects of the project?

This project was remarkable in that the client showed a greater desire for glazing than the architect!  By reducing glazing and rediscovering the wall a high overall insulation value to the outer envelope has been achieved.  The floor and roof are also well insulated creating a comfortable learning environment and retreat for the children.

The large curved roof and verandahs ensure the walls are well shaded and that the building remains cool over summer. The elevated nature of the structure and careful placement of windows allows the structure to take advantage of occasional cool breezes.

Providing comfortable outdoor areas for children’s play was paramount in the design.  The curve of the building creates a protected warm winter courtyard at its focus and the spaces between the actual and wandering, creates large verandahs and other interstitial outdoor play spaces.

What do you consider to be the benefits of the project for the client, users and the community?

Although a challenging form this building sits elegantly in its surrounds.  It does not appear visually striking from the street but instead nestles amongst its rural surrounds, trees and neighbouring buildings.

The building responds to the challenging Steiner philosophy whilst recognising the practical and financial limitations of modern construction technologies and project delivery methods.  In so doing it has demonstrated that with a good client, builder and architect relationship, exceptional, comfortable and innovative buildings are possible without excessive spending.

The kindergarten children who undertake their first learning experience in this building will be in a healthy, comfortable and inviting place, constructed from predominantly low VOC and sustainable products.  The project has delivered a place for learning that will hopefully provide an inspiration to them as they venture into their senior school years and public life.