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Te Mirumiru

Maori architecture is historically rich in symbolism; it thus comes as no surprise that the design for Te Mirumiru, an early childhood education centre for tamariki (children) of a Maori tribe—the Ngāti Hine—is inspired by the Maori belief that all life is born from the womb of the ‘earth mother’. The building is hence positioned as a foetus growing from within a land shaped as a womb. Seeing as this education centre caters to young children from birth to age five, the adoption of this tradition seems a fitting inspiration for the building’s design.

Further references to Maori culture are made. The land on which the centre sits is marshy ground and appears as an island, alluding to the belief that all land is born from the sea. On the other hand, the building’s cover of earth and grass on the roof pays tribute to the Ngāti Hine-pukerau—meaning ‘hundred hills’—a local name for the landscape in which the centre is sited. Likewise, the only opening to Te Mirumiru, along the north façade, reads as a ‘cut’ in the earth, symbolically representing the caesarean birth to which the tribe takes their lineage.

Passive Design Strategies and Ventilation

The brief called for a building, which would not only accommodate the varying needs of its young clients and teach them about their culture and customs but would also seek to minimise impact on the environment with comfortable indoor temperatures during winter and summer. Several passive design strategies were incorporated, and many of the features, whilst symbolic, were only adopted after consideration for the environment.

To ensure that indoor temperatures are kept warm during winter, the double glazed façade of the building is opened minimally to capitalise on solar energy, while also permitting natural ventilation. The thermal mass from the roof and floor minimises air movement of the cold winter air, although circulation of warm air is allowed through the classrooms via the stack effect design. The Green roof, circulation space, and earth bank placed on the south side of the building act as a thermal buffer for the heated rooms in the north. Solar energy stored in concrete floors and the walls functions as a natural heater for the building’s interior.

During summer, when temperatures reach 21 degrees Celsius by midday, a roof overhang helps to minimise solar glare and overheating. While the design features of Te Mirumiru protect against heat loss during winter, the same features also encourage the cooling of interiors in the summer. For instance, the building is cooled as fresh air is allowed in the building through the double glazed windows—30 percent of which is openable—and through the exposed thermal mass on the floors and ceilings.

Doors are opened during the summer, encouraging natural ventilation, resulting in a natural cooling effect, while the earth roof and planting absorb heat from the sun and act as heat insulation. The stack effect design mixes the cool air with fresh air from the outside, further enhancing ventilation in the classrooms. The south side’s earth bank and the concrete also keep the circulation area cool.

All spaces within the centre are naturally lit, dispensing with the need for additional electrical lighting during the day.

Water Conservation

The centre employed various water conservation strategies. The earth and grass roof when planted with vegetation facilitates the harvesting of rainwater, which is then channelled into a rainwater tank. Similarly, rainwater that falls on the paved surfaces surrounding the building is also directed to the tank. The collected rainwater is then used to flush toilets. Greywater accumulated is treated on site, churning out clean nutrient-rich water that is used to irrigate the Green roof. This creates a cycle of water usage, minimising waste and maximising conservation.

The centre’s supply of hot water is obtained from solar energy via solar panels installed on the roof. Lastly, all water fittings and appliances are certified WELS 4 Star and above, reducing the use of potable water from source by 75 percent. 

Te Mirumiru is the first education building in New Zealand to be awarded with a 6 Green Star, and the 100th Green Star rating awarded since the scheme launched in 2007.





Project Data

Project Name
Te Mirumiru
Kawakawa, Northland, New Zealand
Completion Date
Site Area
572 square metres
Ngati Hine Health Trust
Architecture Firm
Collingridge & Smith Architects
Principal Architect
Phil Smith



Design Team
Phil Smith; Graham Collingridge; Grayson Wanda; Chloe Pratt
Mechanical & Electrical Engineers
Eco Design Consultants; WSP
Planning Supervisor
Simon Yates
Lightning Consultants
Mike Renwick; Lighthouse Remuera
Main Contractor
Howard Harnett Builders
Images/Photos (Credit to)
Simon Devitt















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