A sustainable and inspirational learning environment

Kerry Boettcher
Tuesday 21 Apr 2015

Marlies Rohmer Architects have completed an energy-neutral community school in Houthaven, Amsterdam

Set in the former Amsterdam docklands area of Houthavens, the Brede School projects a welcoming air, beckoning pupils inside through its inward curving entrance, outward opening doors, and into its double height glazed atrium.

Outside, the building’s pre-fabricated brickwork façade is embellished with a finely detailed rosette relief, along with a pattern of glazed bricks decorated with children’s drawings, and even bird nesting boxes. It is topped by a cornice which integrates with tall, narrow windows. 

The park side has a double-height loggia facing the sun, as well as a terrace linked to the restaurant and multi-purpose gym. The terrace and the school garden can also be used by pupils to relax and have their lunch, or take part in open-air activities. 

The architect Marlies Rohmer designed a multi-functional and flexible layout to accommodate a wide variety of school functions. The number of classrooms can increase or decrease depending on demand, and also allowing for the creation of rentable mixed use business space. 

The forward-looking structure consists of a flexible shell with wide spans supported by columns. Central to the multi-functionality of the building is the ‘sports tower’, consisting of a vertical stack of playrooms, an assembly hall, the gym and outdoor play space on the roof. 

Group activity rooms are distributed around the sports tower in a continuous ring, all adjoining the facade. The high ceilings allow for efficient use of space with added entresol floors. The group activity rooms can be linked by means of flexible partitions to form larger spaces, and ‘a la carte’ space, or corners and niches allow pupils to work individually or in small groups. 

Various special details have also been implemented in consultation with the users, such as a small toilet adjoining the playground, low windows on the ground floor to provide a view of the outdoors for the smallest children, and a stepped wall forming a bench seat for the playroom. Brightly coloured elements help with place recognition and contribute to an energising, dynamic learning environment – a spatial voyage of discovery. 

The sustainable and energy-neutral building also satisfied the Fresh Schools Class A standard. Every possible energy saving measure has been incorporated, including the smart use of materials in combination with the flexible, compact interior organisation. Sustainably generated district heating/cooling is combined with an air conditioning system that incorporates an efficient rotary heat exchanger. CO2 metering is used to ensure that the ventilation system comes into action only when needed, thereby adding to interior comfort without wasting energy. Energy-efficiency also applies to the lighting, which uses low-power light and motion-sensitive luminaires. The residual energy demand is met by rooftop solar panels, the net result being an energy-neutral building. 

Kerry Boettcher

News editor

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