Finnish school building – an active and open platform for learning, culture and physical education
How does the physical school environment effect on the learning results? Besides teaching, what else could a comprehensive school have to offer? Could school building serve the larger audience as well? These among many other questions have been considered in the new Saunalahti school, a prime example of new Finnish school architecture by VERSTAS Architects.
Finnish education has been ranked very high in international comparison (Programme for International Student Assessment, PISA) in recent years. One of the reasons for Finland’s success is that municipalities invest in quality school architecture and organize architectural competitions for new projects.
Saunalahti is an entirely new neighbourhood of Espoo, Finland’s second largest city. In 2007, VERSTAS Architects won the open architectural competition for Saunalahti school and the building was completed in Autumn 2012. The design has been tailored to support the pedagogical ideas of the school in pursuit of better learning results and the school is the outcome of a close collaboration between the architect and the user.
In addition to comprehensive school classes from 1 to 9, the building provides spaces for day care centre, preschool and a youth house. The school also houses a public library service point and in the evenings and weekends the workshop classrooms, gymnastics spaces and school yards are used by the locals and several hobby clubs. Offering a wide variety of services, the building functions as the meeting point for the families living in the new neighbourhood. The school’s position as the active social centre-point improves the quality of the area, especially during the cold and dark winter season of Finland.
“The openness and the sense of community can also be seen in the architecture”, says architect Ilkka Salminen. “The heart of the building, the multi-purpose dining hall is the space where all users meet. It opens up to the large school yard like an amphitheatre.” Massive fair-faced concrete walls and the smooth, curving oak veneered ceiling give expressiveness to the space and a large glass wall brings it together with the yard. Outside the materials palette is complemented by wood, copper and the brick masonry comprising a collage of different brick-laying techniques.
The building is set on the site in a way that makes the school yards as safe and as comfortable as possible. The yards are divided into areas with favourable conditions for children of different ages. The yards for the younger kids are oriented toward the morning sun, whereas the older students, whose school day continues later in the afternoon, receive the last rays of sunlight over the lowest part of the softly sloping copper roof.
According to studies experiential learning and doing with ones own hands improve learning results. In the learning process of Saunalahti school, a special emphasis is put on art and physical education. The activity of the workshop spaces is made visible to the street, the school yard and the main lobby through glass walls, making the sense of doing and creating ever-present in the school life.
Classrooms are grouped into home areas around their own small scale lobbies used for group work, interaction and collaboration. The spatial organization supports learning also outside the classroom and encourages kids to use the school spaces in open-minded and unorthodox ways. The results are found to improve when the children can choose a learning environment they find comfortable.
VERSTAS Architects is also renowned for the award-winning Kirkkojärvi school in Espoo. In 2016, the third school designed by the office will be completed in Hirvensalo, Turku.
Location: Brinkinmäentie 1, Espoo, Finland
Status: Completed in Autumn 2012
Open architecture competition 2007, 1st prize
Gross floor area: 10500m2
volume: 54900 m3