Aurecon Co-designs Tiaho Mai Acute Mental Health Unit in New Zealand


Tiaho Mai Acute Mental Health Unit, New Zealand

Tiaho Mai or "the light that comes from the moon and the stars – shine here" is the new residential-style mental health inpatient unit in South Auckland and, upon completion of Stage Two, sets the benchmark for mental health units in New Zealand.

According to Counties Manukau Health, one in 10 adults aged over 18 years of age in the Counties Manukau area is receiving care for a mental health disorder. With a critical need for increased capacity, the Tiaho Mai facility provides the community with much-needed support for South Aucklanders living with mental health issues.

Started in 2016, Tiaho Mai has been designed to provide more freedom within a restricted environment and was created with the community in mind, reflecting a more calming residential space so service users can focus on their recovery. Aurecon delivered all structural and building services design for this innovative new facility, as well as development of the patient care/nurse call systems and security systems.

Placing wellness, family, and community at the heart of recovery

Taiho Mai has raised the bar in New Zealand for mental health outcomes. Developed within the grounds of the existing Middlemore Hospital site, Tiaho Mai uses a co-design approach, meaning service users (people accessing the mental health services) were able to contribute their ideas to the creation of the facility.

Tiaho Mai has the capacity to accommodate 76 service users. Positioned with direct access to a shared space, or 'heart', each wing incorporates open plan therapy spaces, a café and lounge areas, and separate art and activity rooms. A courtyard model helps improve safety and visibility within the Unit but also ensures everyone can access outdoor spaces and fresh air without needing fenced external areas.

"Our team is extremely proud to be part of such an important project for the communities of South Auckland. To see the reaction of staff and service users has been fantastic, and we know that this facility will be transformative for people seeking support for their mental health." Matt Capon, Aurecon Project Director for Tiaho Mai.

The next generation of mental health care units

One of the key considerations for the Aurecon team in the building services design was to minimise disruption to service users as much as possible during routine maintenance. The team has reduced the need to enter the ground floor of the facility by creating a cavernous roof space above with access to many of the building’s services. Maintenance personnel can comfortably walk around and carry out most of the building services maintenance without disrupting the recovery of service users below.

The safety and wellbeing of the service users was also a significant consideration for the Aurecon team when designing the nurse-call system. The team was able to provide flexibility for staff to adjust security levels for the different spaces according to various factors, including the time of day and the individual needs of the service users. With less invasive supervision, staff can monitor the Unit without accessing the main user space unless necessary.

Tiaho Mai is evidence that designing for patient outcomes can also improve economic, cultural, and environmental outcomes. Space planning ensured that spaces are used efficiently; natural materials were used, and a residential style of build was chosen to specifically avoid the more imposing look of traditional hospitals.

The service has been transformed into a partnership model between Tangata Whaiora and the Tiaho Mai team, supporting people on their path to wellness. Completed in July 2020, the building has become the exemplar for new mental health units currently in design.

Tiaho Mai’s innovative approach to the provision of acute mental health services has attracted significant interest from the industry, winning the following awards:

  • NZ Project Council Awards 2021 – Warren and Mahoney Civic, Health and Arts Property Award – Best in Category
  • NZ Commercial Project Awards 2021 – Altus Window Systems Health Project – National Category Winner

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