Kirkkojärvi school becomes the new focal point of the neighbourhood
Finnish education has been ranked very well in international comparison (Programme for International Student Assessment, PISA) recently. One of the reasons for Finland's success is the investment in quality architecture made by communes organising architectural competitions for new schools. Verstas Architects' entry won the open competition for Kirkkojärvi school in Espoo, Finland in 2006. The school was completed in August 2010. Saunalahti school, another competition winning project by Verstas in Espoo is set for completion in 2012. With these projects, Verstas' aim is to develop schools, whose design combine functionality, comfort, efficiency and ecology.
Kirkkojärvi school houses pre-school and grades 1-9, with students aged between 6-16. The name of the competition entry translates 'Brothers' describing the layout of the building. Secondary school and common spaces form the larger curved mass, while the smaller, 'little brother', houses the intimate, domestic spaces of the primary school. "We wanted to make a school that works like a small, lively city" says Jussi Palva of Verstas Architects. All classes have their own home areas with dedicated lobbies and entrances, around which the classrooms are organised. The home areas are separated from common spaces, yet the distances are kept as short as possible. Each home area has its own unique colour, making it easy for children to navigate in the building.
In Finland, children are encouraged to spend the breaks in between classes outdoors. In Kirkkojärvi school, the close connection between home areas and yards makes going outdoors inviting. The building divides up the plot into school yards with favourable orientations for children of different ages. The facades utilise the versatile properties of brick, comprising a collage of different brick-laying and bonding techniques. The wooden facades facing the school yards, sheltered by the long eaves, are low and create a small, safe scale. School facilities are also widely used by local residents and various clubs in the evenings and weekends thus revitalising the area. Kirkkojärvi school utilises geothermal and solar energy. The school works as an important example of built environment for children and provides a framework for ecological education.