“The symbolism is very strong … we have a forest, we have a building, we have a purpose’
SCION’S new Innovation hub in Rotorua, New Zealand, Te Whare Nui o Tuteata, is the culmination of a vision for an innovative timber structure and the teamwork of a client, engineers, designers and builders who weren’t afraid of a challenge.
And that challenge rewarded architect RTA Studio + Irving Smith the Best Use of Certified Timber supported by PEFC at the World Architecture Festival in Lisbon, Portugal, December 1-3.
Scion is a Crown research institute that specialises in research, science and technology development for the forestry, wood product, wood-derived materials, and other biomaterial sectors.
Scion’s Innovation hub, Te Whare Nui o Tuteata, has won 14 domestic and international awards in 2021 making it an international timber architectural icon.
Reflecting on the project, renowned sustainability architect, Mark Thomson, chaired the WAF judging panel comprising experienced representatives from Australia, England and South Africa.
“The judging panel was especially impressed by the project design which featured the unique use of diagrid wall frames.”
“In addition, the project used local laminated veneer lumber and cross-laminated engineered timbers, all from New Zealand forests carrying forest certification.”
“Forest certification plays an important role in demonstrating the sustainable credentials of the timber, in the forest and at its source, with PEFC recognised as the largest forest certification scheme in the world,” Mr Thomson said.
The Scion building’s name was gifted by Ngā Hapū e Toru who hold mana over the whenua. The name acknowledges the mana of the tupuna Tuteata, from whom Ngā Hapū e Toru descend and the connection to the whenua, Tītokorangi.
Now that the build is complete, key designers have reflected on what it meant to them to work on a project that showcased timber as an innovative, low-carbon construction material.
Andrea Stocchero, Scion’s sustainability architect and portfolio leader ‘Trees toHigh Value Wood Products’, said: “Our desire was to inspire people to use timber. Professional groups like the NZ Institute of Architects, surveyors and designers are drawn to the building to gain a better understanding of the technical performance of the use of wood products and the opportunities for de-carbonising that this building showcases.”
“If you look from the outside, you see a simple building with fascinating colours that match the forest, and at the entrance Māori carvings which tell the story of mana whenua. But, architecturally, it is when you walk inside that magic happens… the contrast between the simple aesthetic outside and the shock of entering a huge void hits. You see striking timber structure, architectural lines and natural materials in harmony with each other – that is what is so impactful.”
“The essence of the building speaks very honestly about Scion’s intent. It’s a Crown Research Institute for forest and wood products making a timber diagrid structure home, located amongst mana whenua’s Tokorangi forest. The symbolism is really strong, we have a forest… we have a building… we have a purpose.”
Andrea Stocchero said the indoor architecture was a combination of engineering, the wood material and an essential, but organic design.
“This combination is speaking the truth somehow,” Mr Stocchero said.
At the entrance, a trio of ‘peaks’ in glulam timber stand proud, representing the three hapu in the region. Visitors pass beneath these portals to a triple-height atrium where a curated exhibition of wood-fibre technology and a café welcomes the public with views to collaboration spaces above.
Immediately present is the structural diagrid which rises three storeys to form the building’s skeleton. These structural elements are made of high-performing laminated veneer lumber – supplied by XLam who are PEFC-certified via Responsible Wood and feature dovetail node joints which slot and glue together.
The triple-height atrium leads up to a spectacular wooden ceiling inspired by the structure of a radiata pine genome with lighting representing the Matariki night sky. Timber battens and plywood panels in subtle tones depict the barcoding effect from plant DNA.
XLam’s Strategic Relations Manager, Katie Fowden congratulated RTA Studio and Irving Smith Architects on their world stage recognition.
“This is certainly a landmark project for New Zealand and something the architects should be proud of.”
“To go on to secure this recognition on the world stage is well deserved.”
“New Zealander’s are very progressive when it comes to building with mass timber for all its environmental and countless other benefits, provided of course it comes from a certified source.”
“XLam proudly carries the Responsible Wood [PEFC] trust mark on all our products” Ms Fowden said.
Mr Stocchero says the world is on a quest to decarbonise across many different sectors as seen at COP26.
“Many people don’t realise New Zealand’s built environment is responsible for about 20 per cent of the country’s carbon footprint.”
“Trees sequester carbon from the atmosphere while they’re growing, and as long as the wood is in use that carbon is stored, so it’s not going back into the atmosphere. If the timber is sustainably certified it means that the forests are re-growing after each harvest, and the carbon sequestration cycle continues.”
“We calculated that the timber that we see here in the Te Whare Nui o Tuteata structure has been regrown in 35 minutes by New Zealand planted forests,” illustrates Stocchero.
“This is a compelling story about the capacity of New Zealand forests to provide the timber we need for future developments.”
The Scion building, opened in January 2020 and stores 418 tonnes of CO2-eqv for the life of the building, which is the equivalent of one person flying 160 times return from Auckland to London.
“I believe the reason why Te Whare Nui o Tuteata won all these awards, is because it showcases the opportunities architects have with timber, to design exciting buildings, beautiful buildings… buildings that are worth winning architectural awards, while using a locally-grown and manufactured material which is also helping to reduce our carbon footprint,” says Stocchero.
In addition to Best Use of Timber award, Te Whare Nui o Tuteata was successful in securing the WAF award for World Higher Education and Research; in addition to the New Zealand Architecture Award (commercial) and a Resene Total Colour Award (Neutrals).