How the Danish are looking to alternative sectors to influence education design
Adaptive reuse is one of the most rapidly-growing sectors in architecture worldwide, a shift increasingly witnessed on the WAN Newsdesk as the churches-turned-restaurants and mills-turned-residences continue to flood in.
This process of finding inspiration in a past form and preserving the history of a building by folding it into a contemporary design is nothing new, but it is certainly on the rise in terms of popularity.
During a recent trip to Denmark - namely Billund through Kolding to Aarhus - it became apparent that the Danish are also sourcing inspiration for their contemporary education designs in other building sectors; but rather than adaptive reuse, the format appears to take architectural references from other sectors - such as commercial, residential or landscape design - and introduce them to new-builds in order to heighten the learning experience.
Over a three-day period, WAN was introduced to a varied portfolio of education buildings, from the shiny new University of Southern Denmark by Henning Larsen Architects to the grass-roofed Tjørring School by Møller & Gronborg and, on a wider scale, the impact that LEGO has had on education in the town of Billund.
Through conversations with the dynamic teams behind these projects, tours of varied education spaces and by watching how the children interacted with the building volumes, one thing became clear: the boundaries of what is considered an ‘education space’ have shifted.
In the majority of these recent schemes, the underpinning characteristics of the building form can be noted as non-traditional in terms of education design, with the architects looking outside the conventional realms of the school building in order to generate a more inclusive, inspiring environment for students.
Some of these elements may seem straightforward - a given, even - but they are so often overlooked in many education projects around the world, especially in those areas dominated by budgetary constraints.
This said, a number of the projects WAN was introduced to in Denmark were completed in a very cost effective manner, demonstrating that it is the ingenuity and intentions of the architects that have led to this achievement, not economic backing alone.
Many higher educational facilities we saw looked to commercial office design as a starting point, incorporating glass-walled meeting rooms or suspended pods which hung out over grand atriums to provide acoustically-advanced rooms for group study, similar to those found in commercial office blocks.
A successful example of this would be the Egå Gymnasium in Aarhus by CUBO Arkitekter A/S, where the classrooms are arranged as ‘wings’ around a core forum for knowledge sharing. This grand, high-ceilinged space is alive with students eating, studying and socialising whilst overhead, glistening white meeting rooms hang from the ceiling.
External classrooms are often found in Danish school projects and using landscape and agriculture in the teaching process has been found to have a great impact on young minds. This was witnessed in the Tjørring School by Møller & Gronborg which features a core school building with finger-like projections between which are gardens, each landscaped to an alternative theme such as water or earth.
This blend of active landscaping and education design can also be found to great effect at the Pulsparken by CEBRA in Ry. The project is split into three engaging spaces that speak to both adults and children, stimulating the body and mind.
During our visit, a stream of children were taking part in a maths lesson, cycling (at great speed!) around a track in The Pulse Zone while answering numerical queries and collecting high fives from their teacher as a prize for a correct answer.
In nearby Aarhus is the freshly-completed Gymnasium and Motor Skills Hall by C. F. Møller. This particular project is somewhat difficult to explain without actually experiencing it, but in the spirit of online media, it is best summed up as a ‘combination of the best of the sports hall and playground’.
Angular architectural elements encourage users to test their climbing skills, trampolines and foam pits tempt visitors to jump that little bit higher, and sloping surfaces, hanging nets and rope ladders test children and adults both physically and mentally. Again, a stimulating blend of building and landscape.
One thing that struck WAN during the many presentations of new education buildings over this three-day period was the way in which both architects and users of the school referred to the projects as a ‘home’ rather than a ‘school’ or ‘facility’.
This unconscious reference demonstrates not only the care with which they have been designed, but the intention of the design team to craft a space where children can relax enough to fully engage in the education process.
Quality education design is high on the agenda in Denmark and in several areas, new school buildings are some of the first constructed projects in wider planned developments. It is this commitment to providing Class A learning environments and uncovering new ways to stimulate the mind - both for children and adults - that is keeping the Danish at the forefront of education design.