Petone School (1) – Pa Architecture?

The former Hutt Valley Technical College has been abandoned for years, awaiting the Port Nicholson treaty settlement that has only recently been completed.  Boarded up at the back of the school sits the library building – a building that expresses a number of design elements reminiscent of early war-fighting pa.

Like a pa, approach and entry are well controlled.  Entry to this block is protected by being tucked at the back of the building, accessible only from the inner circulation of the school.  From the carpark entry there are no clues as to how approach the building, nor where an entry may be.  Instead you get the feeling of being watched from those high windows, your route lengthened and exposed as you are forced to explore to find a way in.

The form plays with our expectations of what happens inside.  No views are offered of the interior, disguising and hiding what lies within.  Plantings on the corners of the building add further to the obfuscation of purpose and intent.  With few windows at ‘normal’ height, the expectation is that it would be a dark building inside, perhaps a storage area or a theatre where natural light is to be barred, not welcomed.  But this is a library – light is welcomed but carefully controlled.  The majority of this light is provided from four massive light domes atop the roof.

The building has a strong rectangular form, much like post-contact war-fighting pa, adding to its commanding presence.  But this is no plain, modernist box.  The string of windows along the top of the building emphasise the horizontal, aided by the elevation being divided into three bold bands.  The lower section sits back, with the middle band punching forward, and the windows receding at the top as though they are peeking over a terraced hill below.

But the vertical is not dismissed.  The strict rhythm of the lower panelling plays with the language of palisades.  This is repeated in the middle band, though its forward presence is enhanced by the panels being of broader width.  You get the feeling that the middle band is like armour plating fixed to the actual building behind, or like the anti-musket ball matting layer that the outer palisades of many pa had.

See other posts on Petone School:

Petone School (2) – Working Drawings

Petone School (3) – Photo Gallery

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