Our previous blogs (Episodes 1 & 2) tells how Kamermans Architects has been successfully applying Passive Solar Design for more than three decades. It shows a 3-bedroom townhouse (my own) as well as a working farm house.

This blog tells you about the Takanini Family Service Centre we designed 9 years ago. Although it is not a ‘house’ in the traditional sense of the word, it is still a ‘community house’ that heats and cools itself, naturally.

Our brief was to design a low cost building to accommodate three functions:

a. Kindergarten for 100 children aged from 6 months to 5 years old.
b. Family Centre, providing medical, counselling, adult education, meeting room and other community facilities.
c. Headquarters for the Counties Manukau Kindergarten Association, the client.

We chose to express the main functions as three single storey pavilions. The Kindergarten and Family Centre pavilions connected by a combined entry lobby. The pavilions are arranged to create outdoor play areas, an entry court facing the street, and a quiet garden court north of the Family Centre, appropriate for its counselling and medical services. The different age group areas in the Kindergarten are a series of interconnected “cull de sacs” removing the need for corridors and allowing children to move between different age group areas while easily supervised by staff.

The pavilions were stretched east to west. “People” spaces arranged along the north side with the “service” spaces generally along the south side. Wide eaves to the north and the narrow depth of the pavilions give good passive solar heating and cooling. The pavilions are expressed as simple sculptural volumes that “reach for the sun”. Rainwater is harvested for toilet flushing and garden irrigation and car park ran water drains into rain gardens. PV panels on the roof provide supplementary power. All sustainable features have been expressed in the architecture to allow them to become part of the educational process.

Large areas of polished concrete floors and north glazing posed an acoustic challenge, resulting in acoustic materials used for all wall and ceiling linings in the Kindergarten areas, which double up as display boards. Frameless 2400 x 1200 ceiling panels with recessed light fittings arranged in a checkerboard pattern of green and orange is repeated in the built-in cabinetry design in all pavilions.

The client comments:

The Takanini Family Service Centre was designed by Kamermans Architects Ltd. to provide a “state of the art” community building using affordable and sustainable materials. The building was beautifully designed to be naturally warm in the winter and cool in the summer with wide eaves that control the seasonal sun access to the attractive insulated polished concrete floors. Summer cooling is enhanced through well designed opening windows allowing natural ventilation. Another important feature of our community building was a system that captured our roof water and redistributed it to water the gardens and flush the toilets, thus enhancing our ability to reduce our ecological foot print as well as costs. Through clever design, storage, bathrooms, kitchens etc were confined to the south side of the building leaving the warm and brightly lit north side of the building for the areas that people work and live in. With careful design and a willingness to take a risk in what was a new way of designing conventional buildings, we achieved a beautiful, comfortable, affordable and sustainable “state of the art” building that is a pleasure to work and live in. 

The four principles behind the Passive Solar Design are deceptively simple (refer to diagram previous blog in this series):

  • 1  Optimum solar access: Put the windows in the right place; predominantly North, then East, then West and minimal on the South.
  • 2  Thermal mass: Provide thermal mass that acts as a ‘heatsink’ in winter and a ‘cool sink’ in summer.
  • 3  Natural ventilation: Provide opening windows to each room allowing minimal secure ventilation all year round. Warm air rises along the sloping ceiling to escape through high level windows above the ranch sliders (see cross section diagram).
  • 4  Optimum insulation: The insulation helps keep the house warm in the winter and cool in the summer. All windows have double glazing and are mostly on the Northern side. The East, West and South walls have maximum insulation in the wall cavity.

So what is the difference between Passive Solar Design and ‘standard’ construction?

The answer is intelligent design.The construction components (floors, walls, roofs, windows & doors etc.) do not need to cost more than ‘standard’ construction. The difference is in how they are put together in the overall DESIGN.

I hope the above will be useful to you, particularly if you are planning to invest in a new house. Feel free to contact me. I am happy to answer any questions you may have.


Takanini Family Service Centre

Cross Section / Passive Solar Performance

Interior kindergarten

Outdoor play area

from left to right : Kidergarten, Family Centre, Headquarters