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Ao Tawhiti Unlimited Discovery School





Christchurch, New Zealand






Minsitry of Education



Dennis Chippindale

Ian Maclean

Nikki Thebault

Erika Wilson 

Renmark Ragasajo



Simon Devitt

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Ao Tawhiti is New Zealand’s first vertical school based in the heart of Christchurch.  The architecture places learning processes at the centre of the development, with the design of the school creating learning spaces that enable flexibility, focus, inspiration, and supports experiential and inquiry-based learning.


The new school site is within Christchurch City Central, hosting 800 students, in a multi-storey building. Ao Tawhiti’s unique urban location presented us with the opportunity to create a design that allows maximum engagement with the city and use it as an adjunct to the indoor learning environment.

The innovative model for learning places the student at the centre. The building has been designed as a purposeful extension of this ethos, with no staff-specific spaces to enhance an equal relationship between students, teachers and other adults. The central atrium, stairwell, social and eating spaces create a heart to the school, and the ‘learning communities’ on each floor enable the building to work as a whole.

This is a building modelled partly on modern offices, where students, staff and learning supporters are encouraged to interact and stay beyond their normal hours.

Internally, learning space is created for flexibility, versatility and agility through a combination of specialist and general space.


The rooms are specifically designed to create engaged spaces that support experiential and inquiry-based learning.

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