Designing Schools in New Zealand - Structural and Geotechnical Guidelines

"Designing Schools in New Zealand - Structural and Geotechnical Guidelines" sets out the Ministry’s requirements for the structural and geotechnical aspects of designing and assessing school buildings.

The guidelines have been endorsed by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. They establish clear and consistent overall design philosophies. Complying with the guidelines is mandatory from 1 July 2015.

Download the guidelines

Using the guidelines

These guidelines form part of the Education Infrastructure Design Guidance Documents that designers, along with structural and geotechnical engineers, must refer to when undertaking work on school buildings. Those who lead and co-ordinate design work, like architects and project managers, should also be familiar with the scope and purpose of the guidelines.

For matters that are important to the Ministry and school occupants, more specific guidance covering the key engineering design aspects is included, for both new school buildings and the assessment and upgrade of existing buildings.

The guidelines are organised in sections to highlight where our requirements exceed the New Zealand Building Code. They advise how certain provisions of the Building Code should be applied to school buildings.

Versions and feedback

Version 2.0 was released in March 2016 and renamed ‘Designing Schools in New Zealand – Structural and Geotechnical Guidelines’. The document history including key changes is shown on page 2 of the guidelines.

They became mandatory for all structural and geotechnical design commissioned by or on behalf of the Ministry on 1 July 2015 following the release of version 1.0 in March 2015, and version 1.1 in June 2015 .

The guidelines will continue to be updated in response to both technical developments and recommendations from the Engineering Strategy Group and feedback from users. We are constantly seeking to improve the usability of our guidelines. If anything in this document requires clarification please email

Why we developed the guidelines

Following the Canterbury earthquakes there has been an intensive engineering effort to better understand the seismic performance of our buildings (in Canterbury and nationally). Many technical issues and lessons have also emerged out of reviews of new school designs by our Design Review Panel. Most of these issues are common to New Zealand buildings generally, and involve new design as well as the assessment of existing buildings.

The guidelines are the Ministry’s first step in developing national guidelines for school design. They have been prepared by our Engineering Strategy Group (ESG) and have been endorsed by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

The guidelines help all working on school building assessment and design to deliver cost-effective educational buildings that are fit for purpose. Within an engineering context, this means:

  • ensuring efficient and economic design and construction practices are incorporated in:
    • new school building design
    • the assessment, repair and retrofit of existing school buildings
  • providing guidance on the preferred design of school buildings to achieve more resilient outcomes in future natural disaster events
  • advising where departures from conventional design are needed for specific performance requirements
  • highlighting particular aspects of the historical performance of school buildings that designers should take into account in both the design of new school buildings and the repair and adaptation of existing school buildings.


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