A school with a difference

18 Sep 2012

A community school in the heart of Rotterdam

The solid school building in the heart of Rotterdam was built in the seventies, hosting the Social Academy and was designed by the Dutch architect Kraaijvanger. For its contemporary users the building had to be transformed into a modern Community School, hosting two elementary schools, two pre-schools, two sports halls and an after-school childcare centre. Sufficient outdoor space also had to be created for its various users; a challenging task in the middle of the dense city heart. 

The original building was constructed around an enclosed outdoor space. Arconiko has literally pushed a plug-in element into this outside space consisting of extra floor space around an indoor atrium and a large playground on the rooftop. The atrium provides plenty of daylight deep into the school and connects all spaces, providing different views for everyone. It also contributes to the feeling of belonging to one family.

A large part of the original building elements have been restored such as the concrete structure, the facades and the windows. The transformation turned the academy building into a modern, comfortable and convenient school building. All single glazed windows have been replaced by double glazing and a complete new air treatment system was installed. The air quality meets the latest advisory guidelines for schools.

No physical separations were made between the two schools, Montessori and catholic. They appear to be randomly distributed over the building. Colours aid for recognition: blue for the catholic school, orange for the Montessori school and green for the shared spaces. They give the school a bright and fresh atmosphere. If the interrelations will change in the future, repainting some walls will take little effort.

Urban, economical issues

The area around the Laurenskerk is the oldest part of Rotterdam. It has been destroyed during World War II and completely renewed after the war. After fifty years the area is in a bad condition and needed a revitalisation.

Along the market square the two schools were situated in an old school, just built after WWII. For a successful revitalisation of the city they needed to move to another area so there would be place for a market hall, shops and restaurants. But for the municipality it was important to keep the schools in the centre. By re-using an old academy school in the vicinity both wishes were solved. The social demands because the schools stayed in the centre, the commercial demands because it opened the possibilities to add a new program to the town. On the former place of the school, the new market hall of MVRDV will be built.

Social issues

For the boards of the schools it was very important that the schools would stay in the real centre of Rotterdam. It extends the programmatic mixture of the city an makes it easier for parents to work in the centre. Because ground in the centre is at a premium and expensive, it's very difficult to find a nice place for a school with enough playground around it. By re-using an old academy building and extend it on the top and add a playground at the top we succeeded in building this school within 200 meters from the old buildings and extending it with a day-care centre and two sport halls.


Using old buildings is a sustainable solution, even more with improving the quality of the building. Construction, facades and roof are all re-used. Only the interior is new.

An important step to improve the energy efficiency is closing the old patio in the centre of the building. It improves the ratio floor to façade extremely and cuts the use of energy. Further is all the glass substituted by insulation glass and is extra insulation added on the roof.

Together with improving the sustainability we also focused on a healthy environment for the kids. A good noise reduction (the school is situated in the centre), prefect acoustics and sufficient fresh air was as important as energy reduction. Not always suit sustainability to an healthy environment,  It was a challenge to combine these two issues and find the optimum.

Research Schooltransformations

In the past years Arconiko has realised various schooltransformations in Rotterdam. During the process we had frequent dialogues with the school users which made us realise that existing buildings have a lot more to offer than most people think. We started collecting and analysing good examples of schooltransformations over the world to show the possibilities. The research shows integral transformations, where a wide range of technical, spatial and sustainable problems are defined and solved, to be excellent alternatives for new school buildings. Some examples even show advantages compared to new schools.

The research presents seven design strategies to transform existing schoolbuildings. Three eminent examples are deeply analysed upon their process, the technical intervention, the indoor climate and their financial consequences. Interviews were held with the users. A compact version is recently published in the magazine Lay-out nr 20. Both research and publication were subsidised by the Dutch Stimuleringsfonds voor Architectuur. A digital version can be collected at http://architectuurfonds.nl/nl/lay-out/

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