Karori Education Campus (Wellington Teachers' College)

Karori Education Campus (Wellington Teachers' College)

Story by Rebecca Ford

Museum and Heritage Studies, 2016

Architecture of an Education Campus

In the heart of Karori is a 3.2-hectare site that, from 1970 to January 2016, was the Faculty of Education (previously the Wellington Teachers' College). The modernist campus was designed by architects Toomath and Wilson in the 1960s. Teaching here focused on social good and personal development, and in a similar spirit, the buildings represent dynamic, people-focused creativity.

Aerial View of Karori Campus

Creating the Campus

The complex was designed and built in two stages. Stage 1 had a quadrangle at its heart, surrounded by five buildings each with different uses. The quadrangle was designed to act like a town square, where students and teachers could cross, congregate, do business, relax, and imagine.

The design also considered the people living around the campus. The Stage 1 buildings were designed to blend into the residential setting by being the same height as suburban street shop-fronts. Stage 1 was designed in 1962-65 and constructed in 1966-69.

However, the requirements of the design changed when the teaching course was extended from two years to three years. Stage 1 was already underway, so Stage 2 added three tall, dense buildings at the back of the campus. These buildings made the campus a distinctive landmark in Karori.

Stage 2 Buildings

The Architect - William Toomath

The main designer William Toomath is regarded as one of New Zealand's most important architects. He was part of a significant cohort of architects who emerged post-World War II and drove New Zealand building design into new directions.

Toomath studied architecture in Auckland, travelled through Western Europe, and studied and worked in the USA under the famous architect I. M. Pei (the creative mind behind the Louvre's Pyramid). When he returned to New Zealand in 1954 Toomath became deeply committed to Wellington's urban environment.

Modernist Design

Toomath was a purist of modernism, and the Karori Campus exemplifies this architectural style. Modernism responded to innovation in technology and the advent of mass-production, aiming to use these as tools for socially-minded design.

In modernism, buildings are planned and functional. Toomath wanted the college to feel and work like a little town – hence the quadrangle, and the distinct functions of the buildings.

Modernism eschews ornamentation and building materials are used in their raw form. You can see this in the exposed concrete at the Karori Campus. Shape and structure are major features – such as the sky-bridge which towers above the gardens between Karori's Stage 1 and Stage 2 buildings.

Sky Bridges over Lopdell Gardens

Legacy

The campus Stage 1 buildings won a silver award from New Zealand Institute of Architects (NZIA) in 1972. In 2005 the whole campus received an NZIA Enduring Architecture Award. The judgement reads:

"This teaching campus has further mellowed into its suburban setting, and the minor alterations are a testament to the robustness of the original design. The buildings are honestly and thoroughly detailed, and the clarity of the layered 16' module and indigenous materiality is a pleasure to read. But this is not just an academic essay, as there are moments of delightful poetry for those that take the time to look."

Karori Education Campus

Donald St
Karori
Wellington 6012
New Zealand