Danish architects CEBRA have won the international design competition for the Smart School educational complex in Irkutsk, Russia. The vision for the Smart Smart School School Project (umnaya-shkola.ru) is to create a new type of school - a “School Park” - that unites architecture and landscape into a unique learning environment and gathering point for the local community. CEBRA’s winning design, called the Smart School Meadow, proposes a permeable ring of buildings with cantilevering eaves that create a diverse environment with varying spatial qualities around a central campus area, the Meadow.
“We have developed a both unifying and expanding concept that bridges between school complex, nature and modern society in the form a diverse, including and activating learning environment. 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. At the same time, the gaps between the buildings along the ring make the Meadow both visually and physically accessible from the outside and allow for activities to diffuse between the Meadow and the surrounding landscape”, explains architect and co-founding partner Carsten Primdahl.
“The Meadow is a diverse learning and activity landscape that creates a gradual transition between indoor and outdoor spaces so that school activities not only take place in delimited areas, but in a constant interplay between functions and areas in and around the school complex. The Meadow presents the students with varying means for self-expression and motivates them to explore, play, create and meet depending on school activities and according to their individual temper, mood and curiosity”, he continues.
The spaces in between In order to establish a harmonic relation between the school complex and its surroundings while at the same time creating a safe environment based on recognisability for especially the small children, the concept uses the roof as a defining architectural element.
The large roof surface ties the individual buildings together into a coherent complex. At the same time, its ridges and eaves in varying heights and sizes accentuate the different functions and units. They divide the overall ring shape into smaller, easily understandable units that relate the volume to the human scale. The ring is frayed at the edge, so to speak, so that the cantilevering roof in combination with the individual buildings’ offset volumes creates a series of semi covered niches, activity zones, learning environments and flow areas, which provide spaces for a variety of activities in the transition between building and landscape.
These spaces in between are programmed for a double purpose in order to utilise their potential as both access points and links between different functions. They combine the elements of intimacy and contextualisation that tie the wider complex of school buildings, the central campus and the surrounding landscape together. They visually and functionally communicate the “theme” of a certain area of the school complex, act as guiding elements for easier orientation and promote synergies between adjacent functions.
Responsive spaces The organisation of the buildings along the ring uses the varying daylight intensities, site properties and orientations to support the qualities of different types of responsive spaces and activities. A responsive space is based on the idea of a non-paradigmatic approach that has an inherent adaptability to changes in society, what we learn and how we learn. In this sense, the concept proposes a solution that doesn’t subscribe to a singular learning paradigm, but to the activity of learning itself. The responsiveness is the very core of how we perceive the everyday functionality of the school. This means that learning spaces will not be fitted specifically to the classic subjects such as math, biology or music, but to the activities related to them.
In order to make the different disciplines capable of correlations and interchange the proposal expands their classical use and incorporates an activity based functionality. This means that the school’s different spaces hold different spatial qualities, which suit certain activities or subjects, but are not limited to one singular use. Instead, the responsive spaces support experiential learning so that students and teachers can seek out and switch between a multitude of different settings and qualities according the project, working method or subject at hand.
About the Smart School The Smart School educational complex will have room for 1.040 students, aged from 3 to 18 years, a staff of over 400, divided into several professional groups, and outside users.
The complex consists of a pre-school, junior school and high school as well as cultural, leisure and health centres, which are accessible to the public.
The school puts great emphasis on diversity and inclusion so that a minimum of 15% of the student body is reserved for orphans and children with limited physical capabilities. Therefore, a part of the site will contain a special settlement, where the orphaned children live with their foster families.
The design proposed by CEBRA in collaboration with UNK project, VEGA landskab and Niras was selected in a prestigious architectural design competition among five other proposals from architects including MVRDV, Sou Fujimoto, WORKac, Architects Rudanko+Kankkunen/Studio Puisto and MKPL Architects.