After surviving long, intensive university programs and continuing professional development throughout their careers, architects understand the importance of education better than anyone. It is no surprise, then, that an international competition to design a major new educational complex in Russia attracted some of the biggest firms in the world, including Dutch studio MVRDV and Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto.
Ultimately, though, Danish firm CEBRA emerged victorious, collaborating with UNK Project, VEGA Landskab, and Niras to conceive a school building unlike any that has been built before. Smart School Meadows will now be built in Irkutsk, one of the largest cities in Siberia, offering learning facilities for over 1,000 children aged from three all the way up to 18.
“We have developed a both unifying and expanding concept that bridges between school complex, nature, and modern society in the form of a diverse, inclusive, and activating learning environment,” explains architect and cofounding partner Carsten Primdahl. “By turning a string of individual buildings containing the main functions into a ring, the emerging central area becomes an interconnected space of cross-functional relations.”
CEBRA’s ring surrounds a communal green space — the “meadow” — and is topped with a pleated roof that rises and falls to accommodate the necessary facilities in each segment. Breaks in the building serve to reduce the building’s visual massing to a more human scale at ground level, while timber is proposed for external cladding and interior finishes to provide a warm aesthetic in what can be an exceedingly cold climate.
The educational element of this complex is the tip of the proverbial iceberg in programmatic terms: CEBRA has proposed a multifunctional building incorporating a vast array of uses, including cultural, leisure, and health centers, all of which will be fully accessible to the public. Furthermore, as part of the school’s inclusive ethos, part of the site will contain residential accommodation for orphaned children and their foster families. The intention is to transform this school into a vibrant communal hub that will act as an urban epicenter of activity for residents across the city.
Open-plan spaces throughout the school are designed to accommodate a mixture of uses, arranged in a flexible manner that anticipates evolving approaches to education and future shifts in user requirements. Meanwhile, common areas are characterized by floor-to-ceiling glazing that permits a huge amount of natural light. And a variety of informal seating areas are integrated to allow for a mix of social and educational functions.
CEBRA’s winning design offers a tantalizing vision of a new programmatic approach to schools and shared public amenities within urban areas. The wider architectural community will undoubtedly monitor the building’s functionality closely upon its completion. Should the format prove successful, Smart School Meadows has the potential to form a new precedent for education design in cities across the globe.