The idea of the ‘Community School’ came from Sweden. There, it is a place children go to and where they receive lessons, alternated with play. The day is not divided according to the traditional schedule. Some of the pupils are taught in the mornings, while other children are playing. And vice versa. The result is a kind of village in which teaching and play are divided over the day as in normal life. Apart from being a school, the village is a playground as well. In fact, this type of school is best characterised as a hybrid.
In the Netherlands, Community Schools are often used to bring children from diverse cultural backgrounds into contact. More and more parents have children when they are older and regard their children as little princes or princesses, with all its consequences. Rather than being part of large families, as in the past, children are more often than not at home alone or with one other sibling, living in their own cultural capsules. The Community School is a means of ensuring that such children meet ‘other children’, that is, children whose positions in life are different. Community Schools may also be regarded as special spaces, in which all children and parents may jointly be seen as forming an experimental garden for society at large, in other words, a kind of pressure cooker. Relationships that occur less and less frequently in society are cultivated in the microcosm of the Community School.
The original programme of requirements was a combination of entities, comprising a traditional and a Montessori-based primary school, a day nursery, a playgroup, a community centre with social amenities, a sports centre and a youth welfare centre. One of the challenges we faced was to find out whether the interspace could be used by creating clever dual functions. One cluster of functions found its place around the entrance, comprising a bar, a meeting room, a winter garden, a gymnasium and an extracurricular centre, all in one place. We tried to find ways of saving space by having different users occupy the same spaces at different times. By dividing the building up as effectively as possible we even had spare space for a winter garden with plants and trees.
Initially, we looked for a campus-type model, with separate pavilions. However, that proved infeasible. There were insufficient funds for all the additional facades, stairwells and cloakrooms that would be required. We therefore opted for the opposite approach: as wide a building as possible, with a minimum of facade, stairwells and cloakrooms. Less facade is not only advantageous in terms of building costs, but also in terms of energy management. A number of playgrounds were situated on the roof, providing a saving in land costs and, in addition, obviating the need for fencing. As a result the school grounds became part of an adjacent park.
A Community School should not look like a large school. Children spend twelve years of their lives at school, and there is more to those lives than education alone. In this light, the idea of a spaceship was developed. Spaceships play a prominent part in children’s visual imagination. In this case the spaceship would play the part of a galactic Noah’s Ark, accommodating an entire children’s village, with all its different spaces. The spaceship would be bound on a voyage lasting many years and the children would have to survive for generations, breeding animals and growing plants. This idea remained our source of inspiration. It even led to the construction of a large enclosed garden. The spaceship itself would appeal to the world of games, films and exciting stories.
The building is directly connected to the children’s game culture. It is more fun to enter a rocket than go to school. This is certainly the case if the rocket has made an emergency landing in your neighbourhood and its lowered flightstairs are reminiscent of the headlong evacuation of aliens. Judging by its exterior, the rocket has been through many adventures. Maybe it will suddenly take off tomorrow, just like that.
Designing is partly a matter of staging. A decor of daily life is constructed but need not always be constructed in material form. Staging allows one to intervene in the virtual space of the image culture. Designs are not only about how space works in terms of volume, but also about how it works on the surface and what impressions are created. The present building is not marked by just a single characteristic. On the contrary, it is capable of assuming many different characters. It is interactive and based on traditional features, involving spaces, relieved surfaces, light, patterns and colours.
The interior of the building was designed in as many varied forms as possible. The children’s places are on different scales, sometimes intimate and safe, at other times large and adventurous, just as in the ‘real’ world. Differently coloured planes are applied in the rooms, allowing the occupants to make up stories on the basis of the patterns. In fact, colours and patterns are not used to explain the building but to allow for new interpretations.
Ton VenhoevenForum ’t Zand Community School
In the last few years, the idea of the Community School has started to take root in the Netherlands. On the basis of examples mainly from Scandinavia and the United States, an increasing amount of attention is being paid to this combined form of education and care possibilities. Not only for reasons of emancipation and economics, but also, and in particular, because it offers wider developmental opportunities for children.
Various new estates on the outskirts of large cities, so-called Vinex districts offered possibilities to translate an intensive use of space into clusters of social amenities relating to education, welfare, sports, care and even commerce. For example, in the cities of Groningen, Enschede, Rotterdam and elsewhere, concepts are being elaborated for the creation of a new type of building. In Amsterdam, the addition of ‘parent-and-child-centres’ is used to ensure an early and continuing education line.
In the city of Utrecht, Projectbureau Leidsche Rijn and Dienst Maatschappelijke ontwikkeling [Department for Social Development] are applying their own concept, the Forum-school. For every part of the largest Vinex district in the Netherlands, two groups of clustered facilities are planned: one care cluster with care and educational facilities, some linked to the commercial shopping centre, as well as a children’s cluster with two large primary schools of 16 groups each, a day nursery, a community centre, an ‘upgraded’ sports centre and outdoor sports facilities. These are buildings with sufficient potential for evening and weekend use by local residents. In order to achieve a wide and varied range for the whole of the Leidsche Rijn district, the various children’s clusters were given their own profiles, including sports, culture and the environment.
Children’s cluster Forum ’t Zand, situated on the periphery of the future Groot Zandveld park, received the ‘green environment’ label. Apart from an interesting combination of functions and its situation adjacent to the park, the location offers a partly hidden opportunity for creative architects. The park is situated at an archaeological site with Roman remains, for the time being hidden from incidental passers-by. By contrast, the industrial archaeology of hothouses in the area is clearly visible. As a result of long inhabitation of the slightly higher grounds in the middle of marshes and peat lakes it is a variegated area, with many mature trees. The children’s cluster was consequently designed in such a way that existing green areas and other characteristic elements will be retained. In other words, the ‘green environment’ label is incorporated into the building.
Town and country planning
Forum ’t Zand community school is situated in an archaeological park with Roman remains, amidst fruit trees, old hothouses and the romantic remains of a recent market garden past. In order to leave the valuable subsoil and surrounding natural environment untouched as much as possible, a compact form of building design was chosen. Multiple use is made of spaces and play areas are situated on the roof.
Apart from offering multifunctional accommodation to children between the ages of 0 and 12, the building has a clear neighbourhood function, allowing adults use of the building in the evenings and at weekends. The building affords local residents opportunities to meet each other. In addition, it offers possibilities for cultural activities, while the school assembly hall doubles as a theatre and the winter garden as a meeting place.
The exterior of the building links up with the child’s world of experience, which is increasingly based on film, the Internet and computer games. Its shape, the use of materials and the front design suggest a spaceship rather than a school building. As is the case with other spaceships, the first impression is that of an animal. Its white belly and dark-grey back are reminiscent of an orca.
Forum ’t Zand Community School is a village in the form of a rocket. Apart from being an education building it is also a playground which serves as a meeting place and in which children learn to establish contact with each other while continually encountering new things. It is, in other words, society in miniature.
In this light, it was attractive to group and vary in height and form not only classrooms and group spaces, but also other spaces in such a way that they invited alternative uses. Group spaces and classrooms would not only have to be devoted to classroom teaching, but allow people to relax and do their own thing.
Because the building has more than one function it allows children plenty of space to use their own imagination, providing an inspiring background for children’s games. In view of the (more than) ten years children spend in it, it was important for the building to be able to grow with the children.
Contact and cooperation
The classrooms for primary school, junior and senior secondary school are divided equally over the corridors, allowing for ‘educational walks’ by the pupils. The corridors are wide and spaciously designed, allowing for work and contact.
The central building hall was designed as a winter garden. It is a light, covered multifunctional space, where children can play, also when the weather is bad. At other times it is a space for contacts in the leisure centre or the lobby to the assembly hall. For public functions, the sports hall and the assembly hall can be combined. The moveable partitioning walls between the sports rooms and the traffic space can, if desired, be set up as large play areas, strategically situated in relation to the building’s kitchens.
The required pedestrian traffic space is not only used as a passageway but also, among other uses, as a library, study room and computer room. The sliding glass wall reinforces connections with the separate classrooms.
Day arrangements and extracurricular activities
The building accommodates children between the ages of 0 and 12 from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. After-school activities are offered in which children who do not attend the after-school child-care centre are also allowed to participate. Activities may include judo, street dance or handicrafts.
Each function, including the school function, has its own entrance in the complex. The schoolyard, situated on the roof, is also accessible by way of an external staircase. Moreover, each of the schools is equipped with a lift, enabling integral access to the building. The lifts are also usable for the other building functions.
The building has an EPC value of 0.89. To achieve this, ‘concrete core activation’ was applied, forming the building’s basic heating and cooling systems. Additional heating is supplied by an air heating system incorporated into the ventilation system. Ventilation is generated by means of facade boxes. This enables the building to breathe through a perforated skin.
We conducted the following thought experiment. Imagine putting a zero age child in a building, expecting it to leave it at the age of twelve and then to be able to take part in society. What would that building have to look like?
The problem might be put differently. Imagine going on an intergalactic voyage lasting light-years. One would need generations to be able to endure such a voyage. The travellers would have to take all sorts of things with them; not only food, but also the means to produce food, water, company, bedrooms, houses, a town square, even holiday destinations.
Not everything should be spoon-fed. Rather, you should allow users to discover the interior for themselves. How could an interior be designed that would be compatible with such conditions?
An aura of mystery surrounds the space in which the school cluster is situated. In future the Groot Zandveld park is to occupy the location, currently still an area ‘to be discovered’. The planned park is situated in the middle of an area with existing market gardeners’ houses, in generous plots with lovely gardens, narrow roads and ditches. This makes for an intriguing contrast between the open space, the private arcadia and the hot house areas. Moreover, the location is imbued with a sense of mystery. It is an archaeological site, which we know to have contained a Roman fortress, but nothing of which is visible. The site is an enigma covered by a past that itself is hidden from view. This historical background gave rise to a three-layered draft plan: one relating to the archaeological site, one to the market gardening activities, and one to the layer of current every-day use.
Normally this is a site that would disappear during the construction of a large new housing estate such as Leidsche Rijn. But by virtue of being an important archaeological site, the location, rather than being covered by buildings, is to incorporate a park, called ’t Zand, located on somewhat higher ground than the rest of Leidsche Rijn.
The ground level layout allows the mystery partly to continue. The paths, made of agricultural concrete and flanked by robust farm fences, reinforce the image of a non-artificial piece of land. Its uncultivated nature, plus a few added playing facilities, make it a place full of challenges for any age.
Despite the special form of the building, the aim has been to keep its structure transparent and simple. In addition, it was decided to give the structural elements a dual function. This would ensure a maximally integrated approach, enabling the design to represent the greatest degree of expressiveness within the possibilities of a restricted budget.
The main structure is characterised by the three naves running along the length of the building. The classrooms are situated along both of the external naves, while the central nave facilitates stair access.
The two facade line constructions consist of beams, columns and wall components. The beams and wall components are designed in such a way that they simultaneously form the closed parts of the front (dual function).
The inner plan consists of columns and beams with interesting shapes enabling them to function as supporting elements of the building design.
The special design led to prefabricated method of production, which resulted in the need for many connecting elements. Given the visibility of such elements, a great deal of attention was paid to the details.
The floors separating the storeys consist of concrete shuttering. The choice was determined by the application of concrete core activation. This type of floor allows for free styling, which was applicable in this case.
Most of the roofs were constructed by the same method as the storey floors. The exception was the gymnasium roof. A double T shaped type of concrete slab was chosen to enable the construction of a fairly large span. Large parts of the roof are used as playgrounds.
The central part of the building contains the winter garden, constructed in steel and glass. The garden base was left as natural soil, obviating the need for a floor.
The extremities of the building contain some specially structural solutions in the form of small and very large overhangs. Grateful use was made of steel to limit the dimensions and restrict the slice effect of the concrete shuttering floors.
The sides of the building are also fitted with eye-catching elements, such as the protruding stairwells leading to the playgrounds on the roof.
The ground level consist of insulated concrete floors poured on location, directly supporting the foundation piles; an unusual solution since it does not allow for crawl space. This choice of construction was a result of the high water table in relation to the desired floor levels.
In terms of construction physics, the special building and installation design gave rise to a substantial number of challenges.
The choice of concrete core activation restricted the soundproofing possibilities for classroom ceilings. That is why in many classrooms supplementary soundproofing was installed by constructing the metal-studded walls partly as open structures, incorporated into the walls in such a way that the soundproofing properties were not affected.
Another boundary condition set out in the installation draft concerned the size of the daylight openings in the classrooms. In the end, for aesthetic reasons, high windows were chosen locally for the longside walls, resulting in slightly uneven but lively light distribution in the rooms.
Additional privacy is provided in the classrooms by the use of special sliding doors in the corridor walls, with effective crack sealing and the use of layered glass. In order to obtain an acceptable acoustic climate, it was recommended that sound absorbing ceilings be installed in the corridors.
Many measures were taken to restrict the noise emanating from the local ventilation units above the perforated classroom ceilings, including heavy wooden frames with mineral wool insulation and silencers to a length of 1.6 metres. The wooden frames contain filter replacement fittings and devices to prevent ventilation unit overheating.
A glass wall was constructed between the assembly hall and the gymnasium. To achieve a degree of soundproofing comparable to that between dwellings, a glass structure of single laminated glass to a thickness of approximately 198 mm was used. Apart from the installation of a soundproofed climate ceiling, it was necessary to perforate many walls to produce a desired short echo time effect.
The open character of the front cladding required application of a special water repellent foil which combines total UV proofing with a high degree of vapour permeability. By opting for suitable facade sheet distance holders, which pierce the wall’s thermal insulation material, the required insulation value was attained.