Standards and requirements for school property design

Access all Ministry standards and some relevant legal requirements for the planning and design of property projects.

Level of compliance Main audience Other


  • Architects and designers
  • Project managers
  • Contractors
  • Boards
  • Engineers
  • Proprietors
  • Principals and tumuaki

All school property projects must comply with our design standards and requirements, all relevant legal requirements and should follow best practice.

School boards must ensure that any consultant or contractor they use for a project is aware of these requirements.

Summary table of design standards

This summary of design standards is a complete list of the design standards and guidance that we have published.

The table also shows where there could be legal requirements to consider and where there are mandatory Ministry requirements.

Design standard Page has document downloads Legal or building code consideration Includes mandatory Ministry requirements
Principal design standards document  
Designing schools in Aotearoa New Zealand Yes  Yes Yes
Technical indoor environment design standards – Designing quality learning spaces (DQLS)
DQLS acoustics Yes Yes Yes
DQLS indoor air quality and thermal comfort  Yes Yes Yes
DQLS lighting and visual comfort  Yes Yes Yes
Technical design standards  
Structural and geotechnical requirements Yes Yes Yes
Weathertightness design Yes Yes Yes
Fire safety design Yes Yes Yes
ICT infrastructure standards Yes Yes Yes
Electrical work in schools Yes Yes Yes
Whole-of-life carbon assessment Yes  No Yes
Toilet and changing space design for schools Yes Yes Yes
Reference designs
School teaching block reference designs Yes Yes No
Design guidance  
Accessible property No Yes Yes
Bathroom and toilet design No No Yes
Bilingual signs No No  No
Chromated copper arsenate treated timber No Yes No
Earthquake resilience of school buildings No Yes Yes
Energy efficient design No No Yes
Fencing No Yes Yes
Floor coverings No No No
Glass installed in schools No Yes           Yes
Hoists for students with learning support needs No No Yes
Joinery and hardware No No No
Roofing materials No Yes     Yes
Security design No No Yes
Shade and shelter at schools No No   No

Purpose of design standards

Schools are valuable, long-lived social assets. They have given access to education, and inspiration, for generations of ākonga to learn and succeed. We must sustain and enhance the quality of schools for current and future generations. This requires us to be effective stewards of school property.

The purpose of our design standards is to ensure quality and consistent school property outcomes for the enduring benefit of all learners and their whanau, teachers, school leaders and local community.

We do this by specifically focusing on standards where the New Zealand Building Code (Building Code) or other legislated requirements are silent or not fit-for-purpose for schools.

Scope and application

  • For new build projects, our standards are mandatory.
  • For maintenance and refurbishments, we encourage designers to meet our standards as near as reasonably practicable, provided there is a tangible benefit for learners or asset management.

More information about scoping maintenance and property upgrade projects can be found within our specific design standards and on our property maintenance webpages.

Property maintenance

Design standards, guidance and project requirements

We have a suite of property design standards, technical standards and design guidance to follow when planning property work at schools.

We use the term ‘design standards’ to refer to the whole suite. We also have a range of reference designs to help with the planning and design of new spaces and design process requirements to follow when doing this.

The differences are outlined below.

Design standards

Design standards outline the design principles and spatial requirements that school designs must meet to ensure they align with wider Ministry objectives.

Technical standards

Technical standards focus on specific technical elements or aspects of school property and are usually requirements that aim to standardise outcomes for schools, or are above Building Code where necessary to ensure schools are fit-for-purpose.

Reference designs

Reference designs are easily repeatable designs for teaching blocks and areas within a school that have specific requirements. For example, toilets, changing spaces and designs to support accessibility. They can be easily customised to suit school sites, educational needs, or existing buildings and have been shown to deliver good outcomes for learners and the Ministry as asset owners. Reference designs documents are often accompanied with best-practice design guidance.

Design guidance

Design guidance provides helpful insights to support fit-for-purpose learning environments and best practice for school property.

Design assurance

Design assurance we undertake independent, high-level reviews of school development projects at various design stages.

Find more about our design assurance and review processes on our webpage.

Design review

Legal requirements

All building work at schools must comply with all relevant and current legislation including, but not limited to:

  • Building Act 2004
  • Building regulations (New Zealand Building Code)
  • Resource Management Act 1991 and District Plans
  • Health and Safety at Work Act 2015
  • Fire and Emergency New Zealand Act (2017)
  • All other statutory building requirements, standards and council bylaws.

Building Act 2004 – NZ Legislation(external link)

Building regulations (New Zealand Building Code) – Building Performance(external link)

Resource Management Act 1991 – NZ Legislation(external link)

Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 – NZ Legislation(external link)

Fire and Emergency New Zealand Act (2017) – NZ Legislation(external link)

All other statutory building requirements, standards and council bylaws. 

The Building Code has 'compliance' documents that set out:

  • Objectives, functional requirements and performance criteria for various elements of a building required to make a building safe for the people who use it and their neighbours.
  • Acceptable and alternative solutions for designing and constructing buildings to comply with the Building Code.

For more information on Building Code compliance requirements, go to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's Building Performance website.

Building regulations (New Zealand Building Code) – Building Performance(external link)

Give your feedback 

We want to constantly improve the content and usability of our documentation.

If anything in these documents seems to be ambiguous, inaccurate or in conflict with other Ministry documents, you can contact us through 

Your feedback will help us to maintain these design standards as a valuable resource for those involved in the design of our schools. 

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