Strong cultural narratives and a deep relationship with Mana Whenua sits at the heart of Te Ao Mārama School. This inspired the creation of an outdoor learning space as an extension of the classroom incorporating exploration, creativity and imaginative play.
Based in Rototuna, Hamilton on former natural wetlands, Te Ao Mārama has a strong relationship with their environment. The land once provided an abundant source of plentiful resources treasured for sustaining the local hapu of Ngati Wairere. The rich cultural heritage of the area and the relationship with local iwi are key aspects in the schools identity and their integration into the surroundings.
“Whiria te tangata” is a Māori whakatauki (proverb) meaning “Weave the people together” and this is at the root of the school’s culture, values and beliefs. More than just a place of learning, Te Ao Mārama is a meeting place where people of different cultures, backgrounds and skills come together to share ideas, experiences, knowledge and to collectively build a sense of belonging.
The brief we were presented with embodies the schools principles of unity woven into a vision that would ultimately transform an underutilised outdoor area into a cohesive educational setting. As principal Tony Grey described it, “In our rapidly growing school, our vision was to transform a large outdoor space (mostly lawn/concrete) and convert it into a play space that maximised every m2 possible, provided outdoor learning spaces for classes, and also incorporated our cultural narrative and strong relationship with mana whenua.”
Our approach was to make design decisions that reflect the historical use of the land by Ngati Wairere, while providing an effective and enriched learning setting for the children of Te Ao Mārama. We engaged with the school team to develop flexible outdoor spaces that resonate with the innovation of their indoor learning environments.
Tony said, “We met with multiple providers, and opted to use Playscape because they really impressed us with their passion, receptiveness, creative design, connection to “our place” and “our way”, and also competitive pricing.”
Intertwined into the initial brief was the quest to integrate the diverse cultural representation and create a welcoming entrance that expresses the unique energy and excitement that is at the heart of the school. We focused on creating beautiful functional and practical spaces, incorporating versatility by using larger items like a fale and enhancing the usefulness of the existing areas by developing edging solutions for garden spaces and redirecting foot traffic for improved maintenance and flow.
By introducing levels and terraces within the area we could incorporate open play elements that are adaptable and assist with imaginative play. Inspired by Taupiri Maunga we developed a mound that established different gradients. Another key component was building a Wharenui that provided a sheltered meeting space. Multiple waterplay spaces represent the Waikato river curves, twists and turns and provide an open area for inventive play with water. At the schools request we integrated inground trampolines. Jumping on a trampoline helps relieve feelings of anxiety, can reduce a build up of stress and supports and develops gross motor skills.
When reflecting on their playground journey, Tony said “the design and planning process was seamless, and the team were engaged & receptive to feedback and our ideas. The project management and onsite build team were superb – friendly, excellent communication, and went the extra mile. They interacted beautifully with staff, and the many many excited little faces watching the project take shape!”
“ The project was delivered on time and on budget, and our Board, staff, parents and students are extremely happy with the end result. I would wholeheartedly recommend Playscape to any colleagues, and am more than happy for people to come and visit us or to take a call.”