Ara Institute 'Kahukura'

Completion date
Architecture, Interior Design

One of the greenest buildings in the Canterbury reconstruction programme, Ara Institute of Canterbury’s three storey, 6500 square metre architecture and engineering building – 'Kahukura' has been designed to use and visually display building and sustainability techniques so that students can learn from the building itself.

Unusually for a tertiary institute in NZ, Kahukura is made mostly of timber, a significant gesture to environmental care and the large building’s environmental and conservation issues have been thoughtfully addressed.

The following moves have been made:

  • Kahukura has an array of 400 photovoltaic (solar) panels, on the roof, which are expected to generate 40% of the building’s energy load.

  • Solar Hot Water System.

  • Living Building Challenge target ‘net zero energy ready’.

  • Façade walls are Nelson made cross laminated timber (CLT), with exterior insulation and a German made cladding known as GRC (or Glassfibre Reinforced Concrete).

  • The main structural frame of the building is engineered structural timber, LVL (laminated veneer lumber) from Nelson (rather than steel). Inside, the building also features linings of both engineered plantation pine and sustainably grown New Zealand black-butt eucalyptus.
  • Nearly all of the building materials specified are toxicity free, not containing chemicals listed in the Living Building Challenge’s ‘red list’ of toxic products.
  • Mixed mode natural ventilation through most spaces.
  • Reduction of water use by 50% relative to the existing building .
  • Rainwater harvesting for non-potable use.

Conceptually the design team developed the building from the idea of a “Kahukura” - a “chiefly cloak”, in te Ao Maori. This story for Kahukura’s design was developed alongside the Ara’s Te Puna Wānaka team and local iwi.

As well as the physical representation of a cloak, the high performing exterior of the building is meant as a practical living metaphor for the protection of those who are inside learning, using it. It confers mana on the students.

Inside the building are:

  • Two Natural light-filled atriums (lit from clerestory windows) and learning spaces.
  • Flexible learning spaces, labs.

  • A dramatic, wide central staircase. This sits alongside stepped, colourful, seating for informal lectures and meetings.

  • Colourful, inviting café area.

  • A public exhibition space for student work.The building is home to architectural, engineering, quantity surveying and interior design students.

Kahukura was the only New Zealand building honoured in the 2018 Learning Environments Australasia' Awards for Excellent in Educational Facilities. Read more here.

Read more about Kahukura's ongoing award success here: Kahukura awards keep coming: Property Industry Green Building Award.


  • 2018 Learning Environments Australasia Awards for Excellent in Educational Facilities, Commendation
  • 2018 Property Council Awards Excellence & Best in Category in Green Building Category, Merit for Education Category
  • 2018 Timber Design Awards Highly Commended Multi Storey Timber Buildings
  • 2018 DINZ Best Awards, Spatial, Built Environment, Bronze
  • 2018 DINZ Best Awards, Spatial, Public and Institutional Spaces, Silver
Kylie Adamson Senior Architectural Technician Christchurch
Anya Bell Registered Architect Christchurch
Ali Fuad Registered Architect - Associate Principal Auckland
Christian Janzen Registered Architect - Associate Principal Auckland
Euan Mac Kellar Principal Auckland
Phone+64 9 367 0437 Mobile+64 21 408 148 Save Contact
Tom Norman Interior Designer - Associate Christchurch
Thomas Reese Architectural Technologist Graduate Christchurch
Stephen Thurman Registered Architect - Associate Principal Auckland
Mary Train Architectural Graduate Christchurch
Mark Vryenhoek Registered Architect - Associate Christchurch
Melody Young Senior Interior Designer - Associate Christchurch
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