Ara Institute 'Kahukura'

One of the greenest buildings in the Canterbury reconstruction programme,  'Kahukura' has been designed to use and visually display building and sustainability techniques so that architecture students can learn from the building itself.


Project Details

Client Ara Institute
Sector Education
Location Ōtautahi Christchurch
Discipline Architecture, Interior Design
Status Completed 2017
Size 6500 sqm

Timber Construction

The main structural frame uses 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. The building was constructed in a modular system, using 3D modelling of timber elements to allow for offsite production of the LVL frame elements and CLT façade panels. 

As well as assisting in achieving the sustainability and wellness goals for the building, the use of timber allows a large amount of carbon to be sequestered in the building. The timber and other material selections will age gracefully, providing Ara with a low maintenance building that patinas gradually over time.

With such a large building, human scale is important. Timber touch points such as balustrades, bleachers and joinery imbue the building with warmth. Careful detailing, light, lofty spaces, and natural, fresh air provides a comfortable atmosphere for students and staff alike.


Kahukura -
A Chiefly Cloak

Conceptually the design team developed the building around the Māori idea of “Kahukura” - a “chiefly cloak”. This story for Kahukura’s design was developed alongside the Ara’s Te Puna Wānaka team and local iwi.

As well as a living metaphor conferring protection on those who shelter under it, the high performing façade reflects the idea that the building both protects the occupants and bestows mana on the staff and students as their knowledge grows.

The CLT interior walls were router cut to form a unique textured finish – expressive of the flaxen interior side of a Māori cloak. The result is a textured wall lining that speaks to the concepts of form, light and texture.


Advanced Sustainability

In addition to the innovative use of timber, sustainable principles have been embedded in the design in a myriad of ways including:

  • 400 photovoltaic (solar) panels, on the roof, which 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 (Glassfibre Reinforced Concrete)
  • Nearly all materials specified are toxicity free, not containing chemicals listed in the Living Building Challenge’s ‘red list’ of toxic products
  • Mixed-mode natural ventilation
  • Reduction of water use by 50% relative to the existing building
  • Rainwater harvesting for non-potable use

BIM 5D (Cost Estimation)

Using BIM 5D (Cost Estimation) on this project enabled quick and accurate cost estimation for each stage of the design.

For example, a cost plan was developed within three days of the completion of developed design and required only 20 work hours from the Quantity Surveyor. 



2018 Learning Environments Australasia Awards - Excellence in Educational Facilities - Commendation
2018 PCNZ Awards - Green Building - Best in Category
2018 PCNZ Awards - Education - Merit
2018 Timber Design Awards - Multi-Storey Timber Buildings - Highly Commended
2018 Best Awards - Spatial, Built Environment - Bronze
2018 Best Awards - Spatial, Public, and Institutional Spaces - Silver