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Wellington’s first 5-star Green rated education facility

A new landscape and school building catering to students with a complex range of needs, including intellectual, physical and behavioural disabilities.

Mahinawa Specialist School is a state owned co-educational facility catering for around 30 students aged 11-21 years. The brief for the school’s landscape was to create a secure, robust space that engages with its site and is a pleasure to use for students of all abilities.

The school required a focus on sustainable design principles, and set the goal of achieving a Green Star rating. The school was awarded Wellington’s first 5-star Green rating. The landscape design needed to cater to a diverse range educational needs, and provide a safe, healthy and stimulating environment for education and play. Additionally, the scheme had to improve the site’s existing plant biodiversity and stream environment.

The landscape features a curved, radial design scheme which extends out from the building layout, and contains a number of interactive and natural features to stimulate engagement with the physical environment, including:

  • Locally sourced fruit trees
  • Raised, wheelchair-accessible vegetable and herb gardens
  • Physical play areas including swings, a cycle track and a trampoline
  • Sensory and music play area: all equipment was made from recycled materials.
  • Vegetated swales: these were planted with water absorbing plants to provide drainage for the site, which was flood-prone and boggy.

Additionally, the landscape design also included fencing, vehicular and pedestrian access and parking areas, and integration with the new school building.

The Opus team led the landscape design, engaging in consultation with the Ministry of Education, school staff, architects and engineers, as well as consulting leading research from overseas to better understand the particular requirements of students. Opus took the landscape design from its initial stages through to design completion, and supervised the construction of landscape works.

Working closely with staff, the Ministry and other stakeholders meant that the landscape design was able to achieve the goals of sustainability and a strong connection with the site, whist providing a vibrant, engaging and pleasurable environment for the school’s students and staff. The school’s principal was “delighted with the landscape work” and has noticed a “massive difference in student behaviour” since the opening of the new school facility.