It’s not every day that a whole new architects’ school gets built. Nevertheless, this is exactly what Danish architectural firm Henning Larsen Architects did in 2010 with the Umeå School of Architecture in northern Sweden. Located by the Umeå River, this is a place for creativity and artistic experimenting – a place for training future architects.
A “framework for inspiration and innovation” is one of the key descriptions of Henning Larsen Architects’ building, which right from the beginning has been planned to act as a growth centre for the architecture of the future. The building has a cubic expression dominant on the outside, where larch facades and square windows form a vibrant, rhythmic sequence on all sides of the building.
Designed as a dynamic sequence of stairs and split, open-floor levels, the interior space of the building features abstract, white boxes hanging freely from the ceiling and filtering the light coming in through the high skylights.
“We consistently work with creating spaces that support different kinds of learning. That is spaces that encourage concentration and focus, collaboration, interdisciplinarity and dialogue – and that usually encompass zones for both common and individual activities. This applies to all of our educational buildings, from primary schools to universities. Moreover, Umeå School of Architecture’s vertical, spatial connections offer some evident opportunities to positively impact students’ ability to understand, develop and work with spatial complexity,” says Louis Becker, Design Director and Principal Partner at Henning Larsen Architects.
According to Henning Larsen Architects, one of the key objectives was to create a bright and open study environment where everyone can be part of the same room – only separated by the split levels and glass walls of the teaching rooms. The design supports opportunities for mutual inspiration and facilitates the exchange of knowledge and ideas between students.
The drawing rooms, placed along the facades of the building in a stringent and regular sequence of columns and beams, have a simple and rational design that contrasts with the dynamic atrium. The varied pattern of windows generously lets light flow into the building and offers a spectacular view of the river, in addition to creating a strong visual effect in the building itself.
“It was important to us that the School of Architecture reflected Scandinavian architectural virtues, and which we enthusiastically practice at Henning Larsen Architects, such as the interplay between humans, space and daylight. The building’s open and flexible character fits an architectural degree programme very well. The school is in itself a laboratory for the investigation of architecture, and it further develops and transforms concurrently with the students and their projects,” says Louis Becker.
Sustainable materials have been used to construct the School of Architecture. The exterior facing is larch wood and, on the interior, local birchwood creates a contrast to the light walls and contributes to achieving good acoustics. The concrete floor adds an industrial and robust expression. Early on in the design process, energy calculations and daylight simulations helped to establish that the facade should consist of wood with window holes instead of only glass. This has been a key aspect in achieving an energy reduction of 50%.
In this way, Henning Larsen Arhictects was very aware of how they would create a school for the future. A school designed to last, both in terms of the functional and aesthetic aspects.
“To me, learning is something that to a great extent develops and gets realised in an interplay with others. So, even though there is a movement towards increasing digitalisation and more remote learning, I am convinced that there will always be a need for the physical learning space. And that is the space our buildings now – and constantly – shall contribute to in order to help stimulate learning,” ends Louis Becker.