Schools: building for the NEXT GENERATION
Marlies Rohmer Architects & Urbanists (since 1986) has about 15 years of experience in designing and building schools in the Netherlands and abroad. Nearly all our realised school buildings have either won (2002: Basisschool De Vijver, Wateringse Veld; 2008: Brede school de Matrix, Hardenberg) or have been nominated for (2006: Het Spectrum, Den Haag; 2013: Open wijkschool ‘De Combinatie’, Vlissingen) the National School Design Award. Additionaly, De Matrix was awarded first prize for most sustainable school building. Over the years our office has been commissioned more and more for buildings that are related to children and teenagers, such as schools, playgrounds, a discotheque and a large youth hotel. To guarantee the success of these commissions, we regard it as essential to keep in touch with the rapidly changing world of the young.
Out of her own personal involvement, Marlies Rohmer had already begun compiling a collection of press clippings, articles and literature about young people. This collection has formed the base of a more methodological research to (the changing environment of) children and education. Central themes in this are among others: changing family ties, changes in education, obesity among the young, cultural diversity, segregation and integration. We regard this research as essential if we are to include a social and cultural component in the programme of requirements for architecture for the young.
Our aim in short is to seek new possibilities for buildings for the NEXT GENERATION.
The Inclusive School: the new heart of the neighbourhood
An inclusive school fulfills a central role within the community. This notion is also apparent in it’s location: no longer at the borders, but as an urban beacon in the core of the neighbourhood. More and more, the school becomes the social and cultural heart of a community, a podium for the city. The social function that was formerly carried out by churches has diminished, they have transformed into a different position. The inclusive school has now taken over this social role within the community. Both the image and location of the school underline this. The school presents itself as a recognisable and accessible podium. As a (semi-)public building with a variety of social and cultural facilities, the inclusive school is a vital part of the urban life. As a meeting point, a place of interaction and social education, she becomes the new social and cultural heart of the community. After 6PM, when the last children have left the after school care, the school changes into a community centre in which clubs have meetings, in which the auditorium is transformed into a disco or theatre hall, in which cultural classes or language courses are given and in which the sports centre is used optimally.
The image of the building can change from extravert to intimate. The maintaining of an intimate character is important, especially for young children. Hallways, corridors, stairs, cavities, corners, the auditorium, the schoolyard or the sports field, all these spaces act as a stage. The building not only provides places to interact, but also possibilities for secretion, calmness and introspection. The hallway is used for this objective. Instead of being solely a neutral connection between classrooms, the hallways become places in which small semi-public spaces are situated in cavities, corners and behind moveable walls. Here, students can withdraw from the crowded public realm. A child in primary school that stays for after school care has to be in the same building all day long, which makes the presence of various atmospheres an important aspect.
The user is key
The input of future users of a school is of great importance to us and acts as a driving force for our work. We are very experienced in various forms of education, from public to Dalton-, Jenaplan- and Montessori educational systems. This experience shows: in the spatial realisation of the educational concept. Not only do we help in amplifying the various visions, we take care in translating them successfully into a spatial design. Consulting with staff members, from directors to teachers to genitors, helps us in fine-tuning the design.
Marlies Rohmer Architects & Urbanists is expert in blending all the domains of “apart together” in one integrated design, in which all users maintain their individual identity but carry out a collective identity as well. Our project ‘The Matrix’ is a great example of this: the different participants are housed individually and recognisably within the building but all use the same, centrally located, facilities. We create buildings that are specifically designed, but flexible enough to adapt to changes.
A generic structure allows change. A durable school building however is not only capable to change, but also to endure. The enduring part forms the frame, the skeleton. This stands for spaciousness, surplus, and acts as the backbone of the architecture. The space within this frame is generic, undefined, and can be adapted to changing requirements in time. In this, the frame is flexible in use, but at the same time very specifically articulated in defining the shape of the building and giving the building an urban identity. In the flexible layout of the building, many forms of mixture in use and possibilities for adaptation to changing views on education are taken into account. In afternoon- and evening hours the building must be able to be used by different user groups. To enable this, we include in our school buildings a centrally located common area (even if the program of requirements doesn’t state it initially), that can easily be combined with classrooms and be turned into a large party- or church hall. Meeting rooms, gymnasiums, a handcraft classroom and the large kitchen are used in evening hours and weekends by foundations, clubs and churches that are able to organize classes, gatherings or celebrations. By this double use, running costs can be greatly reduced.
Spaces ‘à la carte’ in our school buildings
The friction between specific and generic space is in finding the balance between the open, flexible and the defined spaces, between the large and the small scale. The layered cultural and societal functions are what gives the building its specific character. For example, by making a sports tower the central element of a school it becomes recognisable as a building for the young. By creating a remarkable stairwell or tribune, where interaction and movement are of importance, this same image is created. For the interior of the building, designing the larger furniture elements is an integrated part of our working process. Folding walls can combine two classrooms and transform them into a common room. Mobile units and moveable walls can be applied, that are able to create small enclaves, individual and flexible learning- and playing spaces. Instead of an endless repetition of classrooms and corridors, in this way a variety in spaces is created: large and small ones, cavities and corners, that are flexible in use. The school offers space à la carte: for individual learning, group activities and education for large and smaller groups.
The inclusive schoolyard, combined with sports deck or school gardens on the roof (farming the city!)
The schoolyard is not supposed to be an uninspired plain of concrete tiles. The site can be made in adventurous green areas, with a school garden or playing field combined with a sports deck (on the roof). The stairs towards this sports deck can act as element of play or open air theatre as well. With stairwells, tribunes or a playing tower, the schoolyard is blending into the building. In this way, the building becomes an exciting, mountable playing object itself. An example is our project ‘Community Center’ in Amsterdam, where we have created school gardens on the roof.
Fresh schools: a good indoor climate, Total Engineering
Our office has a lot of experience in designing sustainable and energy-efficient buildings. We strive to create schools that are not only sustainable in the technical sense of energy-efficiency, but in which sustainability emerges on a conceptual architectural ánd the immaterial, human level as well. The underlying motivation in this is: a building that makes people feel good, that energizes, will remain for a longer time and is therefore durable. A comfortable indoor climate is of utmost importance in creating a pleasant user experience. Soon, our first energy-neutral school (Houthavens, Amsterdam) will be finished: the design matches the very high requirements in terms of acoustics, energy consumption and climate design and by this qualifies for the “Fresh Schools Class A” label.
Realising an energy-neutral school building that meets the requirements this label is, in every project, a multidisciplinary task for the entire design team. Essential in this is an integral working method of architecture, construction engineering and installations. We are confident in taking the lead over the design team in a ‘Total Engineering’ commission. In choosing energy saving measures, all quality aspects are taken into account. Not only the energetic quality, but also sustainability and durability, comfort, costs, health and (social) security. This integral approach is also established in the architectural design. For us, the design of a building is always more than just the sum of its parts.
Every possible energy saving facility will be put to use. As a starting point we use a ‘low-tech’ approach, in which smart architectural design decisions reduce the amount of installations. An example can be establishing a healthy indoor climate by creating higher ceilings in classrooms, which limits overheating and leaves room for a possible mezzanine floor. We aim to make optimal use of natural daylight by applying large windows on the north facade: the light intensity on a sunny day is 100.000 lux, on a cloudy day 35.000 lux. Artificial lighting of 300-600 lux can’t compete with that! Another example is designing a ‘smart facade’ with deep nudes, valve windows and sunscreens that are connected to the windows on a lower point (fresh air at all times, even when the sunscreens are down). A greenroof or school gardens on the roof can be implemented. The (indoor) climate (heating, cooling), is additionally arranged by installations and building engineering measures like thermal storage, concrete core activation, low-temperature floor heating and -cooling (adjustable per classroom) and ‘last but not least’ acoustical measures (reverberation time 0,6).