The Danish architectural firm Henning Larsen Architects has designed the first new school built in the centre of Denmark’s second largest city, Aarhus, in approximately the last 100 years. The school design is meant to help move pupils in more than one sense, while at the same time focusing on aspects such as the use of a human scale and dynamic spaces.
Think of climbing walls, ninja trails, raceways, twisters, swings and 100 other ways to move on.
Do you imagine a playground in front of you?
Here, it’s not quite the case. The above actually describes the footpaths and public area at Frederiksbjerg School in Aarhus, which are designed to make the trip from classroom to classroom more fun and more active.
“Good learning requires consistency between both the physical space and its organization and teaching practices; this has been well documented through research. The architecture at Frederiksbjerg School is therefore organized around an atrium, so you move from the large atrium, to medium-sized clusters and then into your own, confident classroom”, says Partner and Architect at Henning Larsen Architects Peer Teglgaard Jeppesen.
The 900 pupils at the new Henning Larsen Architects-designed school are welcomed into a 15,000 square metre school. Here, movement is a cornerstone, and in connection with the centre atrium, the pupils will find shared practical rooms, laboratories and learning kitchens.
In October 2016, the school won an award for ‘School of the Year’ at Nohrcon’s ‘Conference on the learning and school of the future’. The jury highlighted in particular that the architecture meets the demands of the new Danish school reform, which requires more movement both indoor and outdoor. The mayor of Aarhus, Jacob Bundsgaard, praised the project for being a unique school and environment for children, where functionality and architecture fuses beautifully with the surrounding urban space.
“Other people’s recognition of our projects means a lot to us. It is proof that we have done something right. And this expertise of doing it right, we have gained with school buildings dating back to the company’s foundation. For instance, in 1960, Henning Larsen won the competition for the Klostermark School in Roskilde, and this school became the first in a long line of award-winning schools and educational buildings. In the case of the ‘School of the Year’ award, where a public vote determines the contest, we are extra proud. There were many people who gave their vote, while comments have shown us that teachers, parents, students and neighbours are happy about the new school. That’s the most important thing for us”, says Peer Teglgaard Jeppesen.
Adaptable indoor spaces
Located in the clusters of the building, Frederiksbjerg School’s classrooms each have their own group room, which also can be accessed from the shared areas. The different classrooms can adapt to different learning situations: A staircase can be used as benches, and a projector makes up the area intended for presentations and introductions. At the same time, the use of moveable chairs and tables enables the students to study in groups or by themselves, while the window shelves are designed for quiet studies or breakout spaces, where the students can overlook the school’s outside area and the surrounding city. All in all, most of these dynamic interior spaces are designed with movement in mind.
In the outside area, big terraces supplement each floor and function as both learning and playing areas. The rooftop comprises playing fields and areas with furniture, where pupils can sit, relax and enjoy the view. Some of the terraces can in addition be used as outside workshops for the classes. All the terraces are open to the public outside of school opening hours.
The facades of the school are made from recycled bricks. The patinated bricks give the building a contextual relation to the historical surroundings. The architects’ idea was that it should appear as a lively and dynamic school, where children as well as adults can find identity in the design and in the school as a whole.
Part of Henning Larsen Architects’ vision for the school was to create a healthy, inspiring learning and teaching environment centred on the pupils, staff and guests. This included a huge focus on the human scale and dynamic spaces.
“Space and spatial sequences are architectural building blocks, and we worked with the spaces both in relation to their size and layout; from the large atrium to the little classrooms. Basic rooms were designed so that they could support different learning situations, such as communication, contemplation and project work”, says Peer Teglgaard Jeppesen, who continues:
“The human scale is important in all architecture, but particularly when working with architecture for children. Externally, the terraces are meant to break down the building volume into smaller, more intimate areas. Indoor, the graphics on the walls, which our own graphic designers designed, were added to break down the large areas into smaller chunks. The graphics also help students and teachers find their way in the building”.
Daylight and learning
A third focal point included a focus on the indoor climate. A healthy indoor climate is essential for the learning potential and comfort of the pupils. Research shows that children simply learn more in a good thermal indoor climate. Thus, it was important for Henning Larsen Architects to ensure an indoor air quality that could provide pupils and teachers with a good working environment.
The fourth focal point of the architectural design was daylight. According to Henning Larsen Architects, daylight is one of the most important influencing factors in creating a beneficial indoor climate.
“The diversity of such factors as light intensity, colour rendering and daylight diversity is very important for the experience of space and time. The processing of daylight is therefore an important element in the development of a varied and inspiring learning environment”, ends Peer Teglgaard Jeppesen.
Starting in January 2017, Frederiksbjerg School will function as a laboratory for studies on the correlation of daylight and artificial light and their significance in new learning environments. This project was carried out by Henning Larsen Architect’s sustainability department working with the Technical University of Denmark, University of Copenhagen, Aarhus University and the Danish Building Research Institute.
Frederiksbjerg School recently won the annual ‘Building of the Year’ award in the open category from the Danish building industry.