Northland Community Preschool Treasure Chest 2 Exterior

Northland Community Preschool Treasure Chest


Mark Southcombe / VUW School of Architecture

7. New Zealand specialty timber award

Photographed by: 
Mark Southcombe

The client brief was to replace a difficult to access tin storage shed around the side of an existing preschool with a more functional and accessible shed to ease everyday access to playground equipment and resources. The shed was to be as economical, sustainable as practical as possible. The design drawings were to help fundraising by a small parent led preschool community.

The concept was for a simple new lean-to shed designed as addition to the existing building to allow easy construction and included recycling of the existing wall materials and framing. The detailed use of the existing preschool equipment and extent of storage needs was understood through a co-design process with the preschool teachers. Robust construction plywood purpose designed storage racks were designed to ease the time and effort required for morning set-up and afternoon packing away. Double doors onto the playground, and a second door provided direct access onto the existing verandah giving covered access when it rains. The design concept reimagined the shed as a 'Treasure Chest' highlighting the value of its contents. This idea was extended by also expressing it within the thickness of the now exposed existing timber wall framing as a Cabinet of Curiosities. The wall framing is transformed with treasures housed within it and new clear sheet and beautiful Macrocarpa timber facings as a protective cabinet. The concept was critical to the project taking on a life of its own facilitating community fundraising. The $20 000 total costs for the project were 100% community funded by the community it serves.

Simple everyday low-tech building details and highly economic materials were deliberately adopted to address the need for extreme affordability and volunteer inputs. Some flexibility in the detail of the design realisation enabled meaningful community inputs during construction and cost management. The Cabinet of Curiosities wall was built from selected Macrocarpa timber and Perspex sheets with glazing gaskets and removable screw fixed batten facings. Existing wall finishes were reused within the shed. Colour sponsored by Resene was used to bring the plain exterior wall to life. Beautiful, high quality, clean run Macrocarpa timber supplied by Macblack Timber was selected from the range of available sustainably grown local timber for its sustainable production and milling, its golden warm aesthetic, its ease of workability by volunteers, and its aesthetic qualities.

Its non-tanalised, child friendly safety in the preschool environment was also important. It was naturally finished with a Danish Oil. Tanalised timber was also considered and was more economic but did not have the sustainable, visual or child friendly qualities of the Macrocarpa. Local production and sourced timber was also very important sustainably to reduce transport carbon impacts and allowed support of an emerging boutique local timber Mill, which was a bonus.

The Treasure Chest design was an exciting inspiration stimulating children's and community ownership of the project. Importantly the children, parents and kaiako also contributed the treasure within the project taking full ownership for the idea and its realisation.