St Kentigerns Pre school 2

St Kentigerns Preschool


Phil Smith / Smith Architects, Auckland

3. Commercial & public building design award

Photographed by: 
Caroline Ducobu

Whilst the initial form was largely driven by the site and programme, the development of the form into an architectural language looked at the history and culture of Saint Kentigern for inspiration.

The circular shape of the building was inspired by early Christian architecture – the most famous being the Church of the Holy Sepulchre featuring a rotunda called the Anastasis. Furthermore, it symbolises one of the four miracles of Saint Kentigern: the ring found in the fish and the Celtic Cross of Saint Kentigern.

The scale and materiality of the design also take inspiration from early Christian architecture – being single level, narrow width and harnessing natural ventilation and daylighting. The structure features exposed timber beams and raking ceilings along with clerestory windows to capture the ‘spirit’ of the early churches. Using glulaminated timbers inherent properties, we were able to cantilever the beams to form canopies on both sides of the building, providing rain and sun screening to resolve the functional requirements of a childcare centre.

The design harnesses the ability of timber to be formed into a simple cost effective repetitive element. It celebrates this by exposing the 168 identical simple span glulam beams placed on a regular circular grid so that they become the main feature both outside and inside the building. A simple plywood roof tops off the beams supporting a zinc standing seam cover, which is again exposed underneath on the canopies to further showcase the warmth of timber and dematerialising the building (no soffit was needed).

Timber framed walls form the internal and external enclosure, clad with distinctive warm red cedar vertical boards to soften the building appearance further.

During the concept design phase, alternative roof forms were explored for aesthetics and cost reasons – a steel structure clad with a simple soffit potentially had structural cost savings but additional lining costs made it unviable when compared to the lower cost and better aesthetics of the timber option we chose.

By utilising a simple radial geometry with identicial elements, the 168 beams were able to be installed in several weeks and the plywood roof in another 4 weeks, allowing the building to be closed in very quickly. Further - no linings were required externally which saved cost and allowed the timber elements to be expressed which creates the drama of the architectural expression.