“How might children feel ‘at home’ in school?” Asking this, our proposal huddles together a group of ‘village houses’ that connect intimately with nature, while also sculpting out broader community spaces like a plaza and a sports arena. A free-flowing ‘street’ that meanders between gardens, creating spill-outs for play, links these house-like buildings. Varying scales of ‘parks’ lie between the school and forest. Looking onto a shared space, they have a sense of unity within their multiplicity.
Integration with the surrounds
Our proposal seeks to open up the community’s connection with the forest to the north. Recognising the collective effort being made by the communities of Lounovice, Štíhlice, Tehovec and Svojetice to create this school, the need to provide a shared public space that links with nature, has informed our proposal. Between the school and the forest is proposed an open-air sports arena that can serve as a connector, in the broader surrounds, between the houses to the west and the east. The school orients itself along the south edge so as to generously open up views to the forest. It therefore remains visually connected with the larger community and nature at all times.
As one approaches the school from the Kutnohorska road to the south, a spacious public plaza is gradually revealed. The public components of the school split up here to sculpt out this space between them. A vertical belvedere anchors the plaza, while also serving as a marker within the broader context. By climbing to its top, the community can view the scenic lakes of Lounovice to the south.
While recognising the need for safety of the school premises, the proposal wishes to do away with physical barriers and fences. The school building is therefore itself shaped in such in a way so as to demarcate a boundary between the public plaza on the west edge and the private realm of the school that lies beyond it. To separate the school from the public sports arena to the north, rows of trees are planted, which strategically allow views towards the forest.
To make the approach to the school more straightforward, a connecting one-way road has been opened up from Kutnohorska I/2 road to the south. The site is equally accessible from the proposed entry square to the west, via the Soubezna road, whereby spaces for parking can conveniently be conveniently accessed to the west of the site.
A service lane on the southern edge of the site provides access to for services such as the kitchen and facilities. Between the site and the forest, we propose a pedestrian path, instead of a vehicular road, so as to create a seamless flow between this community space and nature.
How can an educational space nurture character? Its domestic character, inspired by the houses in this region, and sequences of streets and intimate gardens, might lend the children a sense of being ‘at home’ in school.
Although created as an informal learning environment, the school is marked by an institutional element – a common area from which the whole is perceivable – which helps to achieve a sense of unity within the multiplicity created by the various spaces that surround it. These range from intimate gardens to open playgrounds, outdoor sports areas and finally, the community sports arena near the forest edge. These spill-out spaces encourage various degrees of social interaction that, we believe, might nurture a collaborative spirit.
Defining these spaces are a series of blocks arranged rhythmically along the site’s southern edge. These seemingly autonomous linear volumes are linked together by a free-flowing street. As one meanders through this street, the spatial experience varies – one moment, one is in a garden, and the next moment, in a double-heighted corridor. Along this curated path, one discovers nooks and corners for play, and niches through which to glimpse the forest intermittently. This direct linkage between all three schools might encourage a flow of ideas between students of different age groups and the staff. Equally, there is a lack in hierarchy across the entire complex, with all functions having similar expression.
In keeping with this overall spirit of the place, the internal spaces of learning are created such that they allow for ‘freedom’ and individual choice. The classrooms can have flexible layouts – allowing for possibilities for exploratory groupings as well as for break-out spaces. This acknowledges a spirit of facilitation rather than instruction. The classrooms, furthermore, spill out onto teaching gardens, which serve as spaces for relaxation between classes, where plants can be grown as part of the education.
The proposal’s sense of materiality has evolved as a reinterpretation of the rural house. It ‘stacks’ a wooden floor on top of a seemingly heavy stone base so as to create horizontal layers. This stratification helps to break up the height and scale of the buildings such that they are less institutional in character, making the spaces more relatable for the children. A sensory stimulus is crucial for the development of children and this natural palette of materials lends warmth and texture to the spaces. This is expressed across the whole complex, as well as in its parts.
The entire structure is made in wood by adopting a Gefaltete folded system, with infill of stone and wooden boards. This allows one to span the internal volumes without a need for intermittent columns, which aids in the internal flexibility of the learning spaces. Repetition of this structural system makes it easy for the school to expand in the future. On the northern side of the volumes, glass is used to heighten transparency and enable views to the forest.
Programme and functionality
To the west of the site are the public functions of the school, like the gymnasium and auditorium, which flank the public plaza. The auditorium is functionally separate from the school so that it can be open after-hours. Entering the main entrance block to the school, above which lies the residences of the employees, also accesses an art school. Intermixing the various functions might help create an active environment.
Once one has crossed into the private realm of the school, the primary and prep schools are the most directly accessible, with spaces for the parents to wait in while picking up their children. Beyond this is the cafeteria, which is situated centrally between all the schools. The secondary school students suitably situate the library, meanwhile, on the east end of the site such as to be easily accessible. Staff rooms are also distributed across the blocks such so as to be in close proximity to both the primary and secondary schools.
The expansion of the school follows the same structural system and material expression as the rest of the complex. To avoid ad-hoc additions, these expansions are therefore proposed as part of the overall composition strategy, such that they may further define and enhance the open spaces shared between the buildings. In the interim period, they are proposed in glass, and may serve as double-height spill-out spaces or winter gardens for outdoor education. In the future, stone and wood, when needed can replace this glass.