Monday 11 Jul 2016


The new Mesterfjellet School and Family Centre combines contemporary pedagogical theory with varied teaching environments, passivhaus level energy efficiency and excellent indoor climate in a 5-story school for 572 students on an urban site in Larvik. The school is a collaboration between the Danish architecture office CEBRA and Norwegian collaborators Various Architects, SPINN Arkitekter and landscape architects Østengen & Bergo. Mesterfjellet School creates a framework for a lively and a multifaceted educational universe with great spatial variation that supports the schools varying functions. An arena for learning and teaching, a workplace, and a social meeting place.

By upending the diagram of a typical atrium school, the introverted central space with skylight is transformed into an extroverted central space with generous inflow of daylight and views to the playground outside. The common school functions which are typically arranged on the ground floor are now also spread vertically throughout the building. This transparent and unusual organisation combines the best qualities from traditional compact atrium schools and more spread out, finger schools. 

The vertical central space is the heart of the building and functions as a fulcrum for student activities. The landmark magenta stairway spirals up throughout the space to create an inviting and exciting path for the students. The compact plan gives short internal distances from classrooms to special functions on every floor, creating a synergy effect that allows students to meet and interact regardless of their age or cohort. Themed internal squares on each floor relate to the specialized teaching spaces nearby. Smaller, more intimate gathering areas are also provided within each floor, with seating niches on top of book lockers, or larger storytelling spaces in the north-east corner. This combination of spaces provides for great spatial variation allowing individuals or groups to find their own spaces for study or socialisation.

The central open space is clad with perforated wooden panels that provide sound absorption and ensure an optimal acoustical response. The perforations of the panels are decorated with pedagogical and aesthetical elements made from holes of varying sizes. Three motives tell stories that are related to the special rooms behind them. The motive-walls weave images from scientific history, nordic mythology and musical elements together into an open narrative that students can explore and discover over time. New details can be interpreted and understood differently as they develop throughout their tenure at the school.

Mesterfjellet School is in fact a multifunctional complex of civic functions for Larvik that are tied together by the newly established entrance plaza to the north. The new school was built to connect to a pre-existing multifunction sports and swimming centre, Farrishallen and includes a Family Centre which is an important healthcare and social services offering for the area. The family centre features a health station for infants as well an open day-care where local mothers can come with their children during the day. The family centre is part of an outreach program for minority families in the area. The school’s playground has already become an important gathering area for the neighbourhood outside of school time as well. The combination of these three functions has created a complex that is full of activity from morning to night seven days a week. 

Mesterfjellet School and Family Centre was designed with a minimal building footprint to allow maximum use of the urban site for playgrounds, sports facilities and outdoor learning spaces which benefit both the school and the neighbourhood. The school site is central to Larvik and between the characteristic Mesterfjellet Master Mountain to the north and a green park to the southwest. The outdoor spaces create a green and active connection between the park and the mountain where the topographical features of the site are highlighted and strengthened with structures inspired by the local granite stone Larvikite. 

The school’s outdoor areas are comprised of the Entrance Plaza, Atrium, Playground and Sports zone. The Entrance Plaza forms a universally designed entrance to the school complex. The Atrium to the south was designed around a massive existing Tilia tree that fills the volume between the school and Farrishallen. Great care was taken during construction to avoid harming the tree. Playground areas are divided into geometrical islands with age differentiated apparatus, while the Sports zone contains a football pitch, an obstacle course, and a climbing tower. In addition to the Tilia, two other large existing trees were saved on site and a series of new trees have been planted to strengthen the green structure and give a greater biodiversity to the area. Rainwater is treated on site with surface capture and integrated permeable drainage areas.

Wood is used extensively throughout the building to give the school a calm, but warm nordic palette of wood, white and grey. The exteriors of the heavily insulated outside walls are clad with vertical boards in varying widths of Kebony, a maintenance free thermo-treated wood. The building’s wooden exterior will patina to a silvery-grey over time allowing the building to blend in with Larvik’s vertical stone uprisings and boulder-like hills. The inside of the exterior wall is clad with vertical wooden slats that contribute to sound absorption and add a feeling of quality and natural materials to the classrooms. Interior walls are clad with a combination of white pigmented plywood birch veneer or white painted fibre gypsum fibreboard.

Focus on a good interior climate and energy efficiency has been central to the design and engineering of Mesterfjellet School. The building features an advanced hybrid-ventilation system that combines mechanical ventilation and natural ventilation through the use of computer controlled automated windows. Sensors in each room and a weather station on the roof are used to balance and control the windows based upon the air-quality of each room and outdoor conditions. Fresh air for the mechanical system is also tempered via an underground duct before entering the system.

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