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Discovery Garden

Isthmus Group Ltd

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  • NZILA Award of Excellence / Institutional — 2019
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“Te Kaapuia o Te Waoku – We are all part of nature. The Discovery Garden is an amazing living classroom where curious minds can explore and learn about the natural world. We’ll be focusing on the fantastic uses of plants - for food, fibre, medicine, and construction.” - WCC

Isthmus in partnership with Calibre Civil Engineering and Maltbys Quantity Survey were awarded the contract to design the Wellington Botanic Garden Children’s Garden in March 2014. Building on a preliminary concept developed by Wraight + Associates, the Isthmus team worked with the Botanic Gardens Project Team (BGPT) and led the design of the garden, and facilitated stakeholder engagement through Design Review, Concept Design, and Detail Design phases of the project. The project was delivered in stages, due to funding availability, with the Isthmus team providing site observation services through construction.

Reconnecting people with nature through hands on experience in a children’s garden is part of a global conversation and reinterpretation of Botanic Gardens; to increase their relevance in our everyday and, increasingly, urban lives. With connections to the ‘benchmark’ in the Bronx New York, now 20 years old, and Melbourne’s Ian Potter Foundation Children’s Garden that opened its doors in 2004, Aoteoroa started this ‘hands-on’ conversation in the Potter Children’s Garden at Auckland’s Regional Botanic Garden in 2005. Now Wellington has its own Discovery Garden, opened in September 2017, as a new destination for all visitors to enjoy and home to a busy education centre for children of all ages during term time and in holiday programmes.

Isthmus’ involvement in creating this living classroom has been from consent to construction working with the Botanic Garden and wider Wellington community to help shape the vision for the Discovery Garden, bringing people and plants together. In theory, this follows an age-old tradition of cultivation and harvest for varied uses and continuation of the learning and teaching traditions of the garden. In practice, the challenges of an archetypal Wellington site - topography and ‘proper’ weather.

The big moves and challenge were to establish access through a central ponga and timber lined trench and a sequence of playful spaces with microclimates to grow plants for food, fibre, medicine and construction. Learning nodes are set into this landscape, the construction hut and oak tree deck for making, doing and experimenting. Water is threaded through terraces for ‘incredible edibles’ using the topography as a playful and purposeful element; with rainwater tanks and water flowing along interactive bamboo races then recycled safely for use by people and plants.

At the heart of the garden a new learning pavilion is nestled into the landform as the main gathering space for school workshops, events, tending the woolly pocket and moveable gardens and generally getting stuck in; as a sheltered space for making and doing, building connections through community to nature.

Isthmus’ architects designed the building in collaboration with the Landscape Architects, working in the overlap to bring greater outcomes through integrated learning opportunities.

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Judges Citation:
From the beautifully crafted entry, to the pavilion and the terraced gardens, Discovery Garden provides a richness of delight and detail. The project responds to the physical complexities of the site and achieves a variety of experiences amongst challenging grades and levels. The materiality is clever and innovative, from the bamboo water race to the punga walls, the metal screening and the raised gardens, no detail is left untouched. The contribution from the community involvement in the design process is evident and that input is weaved through the form and character of the garden.

Discovery Garden achieves its goal as a living classroom with ease and confidence, providing an appropriate and playful platform for the principles of sustainability.

Client: Wellington City Council

Company: Isthmus

Internal collaborators
Lisa Rimmer, Scott Donnell, Sophie Jacques, Helen Kerr

External collaborators
Wellington City Council

Key contractors
Maycroft Construction

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