The intent: How can an educational space nurture character? Its domestic character, inspired by the houses in this region, and sequences of streets and intimate gardens, might lend the children a sense of being ‘at home’ in school.
Although created as an informal learning environment, the school is marked by an institutional element – a common area from which the whole is perceivable – which helps to achieve a sense of unity within the multiplicity created by the various spaces that surround it. These range from intimate gardens to open playgrounds, outdoor sports areas and finally, the community sports arena near the forest edge. These spill-out spaces encourage various degrees of social interaction that, we believe, might nurture a collaborative spirit.
Defining these spaces are a series of blocks arranged rhythmically along the site’s southern edge. These seemingly autonomous linear volumes are linked together by a free-flowing street. As one meanders through this street, the spatial experience varies – one moment, one is in a garden, and the next moment, in a double-heighted corridor. Along this curated path, one discovers nooks and corners for play, and niches through which to glimpse the forest intermittently. This direct linkage between all three schools might encourage a flow of ideas between students of different age groups and the staff. Equally, there is a lack in hierarchy across the entire complex, with all functions having similar expression.
In keeping with this overall spirit of the place, the internal spaces of learning are created such that they allow for ‘freedom’ and individual choice. The classrooms can have flexible layouts – allowing for possibilities for exploratory groupings as well as for break-out spaces. This acknowledges a spirit of facilitation rather than instruction. The classrooms, furthermore, spill out onto teaching gardens, which serve as spaces for relaxation between classes, where plants can be grown as part of the education.
Materialisation: The proposal’s sense of materiality has evolved as a reinterpretation of the rural house. It‘stacks’a wooden floor on top of a seemingly heavy stone base so as to create horizontal layers. This stratification helps to break up the height and scale of the buildings such that they are less institutional in character, making the spaces more relatable for the children. A sensory stimulus is crucial for the development of children and this natural palette of materials lends warmth and texture to the spaces. This is expressed across the whole complex, as well as in its parts.
The entire structure is made in wood by adopting a Gefaltete folded system, with infill of stone and wooden boards. This allows one to span the internal volumes without a need for intermittent columns, which aids in the internal flexibility of the learning spaces. Repetition of this structural system makes it easy for the school to expand in the future. On the northern side of the volumes, glass is used to heighten transparency and enable views to the forest.