School teaching block reference designs

We have prepared a catalogue of school teaching block reference designs to share popular, successful and easily customised designs you can work with your design team to tailor to your site and school needs.

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About reference designs 

References designs are easily repeatable school designs proven to deliver good learning outcomes and can be easily customised to school sites and needs. They can be used for upgrades, roll-growth additions, replacement classrooms in school redevelopments, or newly planned schools.

Reference designs are our first choice for school property design solutions, including upgrades. While they aren’t mandatory, they should be used as a starting point for school designs. Every school and school site is unique and we want to find the right solution for each school property project.

Reference design catalogue 

The first version of the reference design catalogue includes 10 designs, most of which come from primary schools. The reference designs presented showcase our knowledge in how students and teachers use spaces, however there is always more to learn. We expect that these designs will continue to be refined with future improvements.

Each reference design in the catalogue has undergone an evaluation where we assess how well each design meets the needs of teachers and learners. The reference designs we have included in the catalogue received good feedback from their schools, are built to performance-based standards to ensure the best learning environments for students.

The designs are intended to be used as a starting point for school property projects, and even if using a reference design is the best option for a school, an architect will need to ensure the design is customised to the site.

We are planning a second edition of the catalogue featuring more specialised designs needed in secondary schools and kura, including science blocks, gyms, admin buildings and more. 

Download the school reference design catalogue [PDF, 24 MB]


Transcript: Reference designs for schools video

Renelle Gronert, Senior Manager School Design, Ministry of Education:

Our purpose is to shape an education system that delivers equitable and excellent outcomes.

Our Te Rautaki Rawa Kura – The School Property Strategy 2030 sets our direction for ensuring we have a sustainable school portfolio where all schools have access to quality learning environments by 2030.

One way we can ensure all schools have access to quality learning environments is by using our school teaching block reference designs.

Vincent Mullins, Chief Advisor School Design, Ministry of Education:

These are school designs that we know have delivered consistent, quality outcomes and provide a durable built asset.

They can be used for upgrading older teaching blocks, extra space when school rolls grow, replacement classrooms or in new schools, and can be customised to a particular school’s needs and their site.

Renelle Gronert:

This is one of our newer single storey designs.

This opened in 2019 and the design has been used in two other schools and we’re planning a third.

Our schools are built to performance-based standards to ensure they are resilient.

Each teaching space provides the correct acoustic performance and has good indoor air quality to ensure the best learning environment for our students.

We incorporate aspects of schools’ philosophies and pedagogies into their teaching spaces.

Vincent Mullins:

Here in New Zealand we face a particular range of physical challenges with our buildings.

We have high seismic activity. We have high ultraviolet light which degrades our building products and makes them break down. We have high rainfall. In some areas we’re facing coastal erosion and even risk of tsunami.

In some areas there is even geothermal activity which can be very corrosive on foundations and building products.

These reference designs generally have strong, steel portal frames that resist earthquake movements. They can be built bigger and stronger for schools in more severe earthquake zones.

More and more, our school designs are using a lot of locally grown timber.

It’s lightweight, versatile and resilient, and our extensive renewable forests act as a carbon sink, offsetting our carbon footprint.

We’re continuing to expand and strengthen our reference designs.

Renelle Gronert:

We’re using different materials, building our supply chains and evaluating them to make sure they’re delivering quality, durable buildings which most importantly are great teaching and learning environments for our students.

These designs are our first choice for upgrades and new school buildings. They will help us meet out targets for 2030 and beyond.

Frequently asked questions about reference designs

Are reference designs mandatory?

Every school and school site is unique, and we want to find the right solution for each school property project. For some schools these catalogue designs will be the right solution, whereas for other schools the right solution may be a bespoke design. While reference designs aren’t mandatory, they should be used as a starting point for school designs where possible.

Are reference designs the same as standardised designs?

Reference designs are different to standardised designs, which are generally copied with little or no adjustment.

Why are we encouraging using reference designs?

Through Te Rautaki Rawa Kura– The School Property Strategy 2030 we’re headed towards a sustainable school portfolio where all schools have access to quality learning environments by 2030.

One way we can ensure all schools have access to quality learning environments and consistent outcomes across schools is by replicating reference designs.

Can reference designs be customised to my school’s pedagogy and philosophy?

The reference designs we have selected have flexibility to be customised to a schools particular needs, particularly the subdivision of the internal rooms to suit pedagogy and customisation of some cladding panels and colours to match the schools character and branding. 

Will schools still need to hire an architect?

Yes, every school and school site need to be individually considered, and even if using a reference design an architect will need to ensure the design is customised to the site.

Will schools need to hire the same architect who designed a reference design?

No, a school can use another architect that meets our procurement requirements. Their architect can review the plans and use them as a starting point. 

Where can I see a reference design near me?

In the school reference design catalogue, we have included examples where different schools have used the same or similar designs.

Where can I find out more about reference designs?

You can find out more about reference designs by speaking to your property advisor, delivery manager or emailing School.Design@education.govt.nz

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