By Margarida N. Waco
As the latest addition to a long row of educational buildings by Copenhagen office, Henning Larsen Architects, in a collaboration with GPP Arkitekter, the proposal for Frederiksbjerg School has succeeded in responding to the recent demands on the development of Danish learning facilities. In doing so, it strives to set the bar for future educational buildings domestically.
With a strong vision to design the school of the future, the two offices won the competition in 2013 suggesting a school that gathers more than 900 pupils and emphasizes movement in relation to learning. The school couples spatial quality with pedagogical practice to an extent that complies with the new program defining future learning facilities. Recently, the efforts has led to an award for Danish School Building of the Year, 2016.
Frederiksbjerg School presents itself as a primary school version 2.0 and demonstrates a rather pragmatic way of responding to the demands of local municipality. These new demands proclaim that the best learning outcomes are accomplished through movement and sensation and therefore claims a minimum of 45 minutes of physical activity to be included as a part of the daily timetable. In doing so, however, the architects proposed a building highly adapted to the users in question by designing the interior of the building as a tremendous playground.
Opened this August, each day the children access no less than 40 zones capable of facilitating activity throughout the building. Inside, Frederiksbjerg School reveals a rather playful approach by presenting colored acoustic wall panels and several climbing walls – swings – colored paths on the floors – wall bars: all together tools complying with the motor function of the different age groups and uniting great amusement with learning. However, amusement is not all – even the characteristic playful and social elements are compatible with the more earnest, neatly done by for instance implementing window sills for retreat and absorption in the classrooms, as well as introducing study areas supporting the various phases of learning.
When entering the school, one finds oneself at the central meeting point; the atrium where the concrete columns introduced in the main entrance outside are equally repeated. Organized around this atrium that serves as the main architectural feature connecting the four storeys, the plan solution is made up by a generic structure reiterating itself vertically throughout the building. In addition, it enables accessibility to each floor through the main stairs and eventually ramifies into clusters divided into smaller zones making up space for the life within the school to unfold.
Vertically, the spatial organization is characterized by a graduation in location of functions and classrooms. Apart from a daycare and a youth club, the youngest pupils are equally situated on the ground and first floor, whilst the middle grades on second floor, and finally the oldest on the third floor. As a logical consequence of the visual and physical connection caused by the atrium, this strict organizational system is however broke up. This leads to a rather distinct sense of community and interaction between the users.
As the first school to be built in the center of Aarhus in 100 years with a cityscape made up by 4-6 storeys buildings of red colored brick, Frederiksbjerg School succeeds in adapting to the urban fabric that historically has characterized the area. This is done by for instance introducing a facade constructed of recycled red colored bricks and thereby emphazise the importance of the historical background of the area. Furthermore, an extra dimension was added on the basis of a great desire to merge the life within the walls of Frederikbjerg School with the life outside. The architects therefore designed a school that aims at inviting the surrounding neighborhood and different associations inside by providing accessibility to the facilities as meeting rooms and other public zones in and around the school in the late hours. By doing so, Frederiksbjerg School not only makes room for learning and movement for 900 pupils but even strives to be the new center of the daily life in the whole neighborhood.