College in Copenhagen
Like the openness of the interior, the security strategy is a surprising aspect of the design — because there isn't really one. Outside, there's no conventional school yard, although there is a sports field on the roof of the parking garage behind the school.
The ground floor of the building is essentially public, and people not affiliated with the school can come in and order a cup of coffee or an ice cream in the cafe, which is also the school canteen. Thus, much like in the world outside school, students come into contact with other members of the public, albeit in a limited way and under the watchful eye of school administrators, whose glazed offices overlook the cafeteria.
Next to the cafe, a series of stepped timber terraces lead down to a flexible auditorium and athletic space that can be fully opened up for events.
Looking up from this naturally lit ground floor, there are hints of the extreme open-plan layout of the classroom floors. The building has, quite simply, no corridors. Three enormous columns seem to hold up the entire building, while also concealing services and emergency-exit stairs. With each change in level, the floor plan shifts, twisting slightly so that the opening of the atrium is a different shape on each floor.
A generously oversized, sculptural staircase is the main vertical circulation of the building. The wood-clad stair allows the compact facility to have a grand space, a natural focal point for students as they move through the day's classes.
Such a stairway is becoming almost a signature design element of 3XN's. The architects experimented with this idea most notably in their Saxo office headquarters in Copenhagen, where they found that celebrating the vertical circulation as a social space actually makes people interact more and creates a feeling of transparency.
Unconventional Spaces for Learning
The Ørestad school was designed in response to changes in the Danish curriculum, which began to promote integrated, project-based learning. That active learning style required a new way of teaching, and prompted 3XN to develop ideas about how to foster increased interaction as well as more traditional learning. "We worked closely with a user group of teachers and pedagogical consultants for three to four months," says architect Kim Herforth Nielsen, principal of 3XN, "and were impressed with their enthusiasm and highly qualified input."
For example, on the fourth floor of the building, a group of eight round black tables, each surrounded by a handful of chairs, stands adjacent to a slender column marked by a subtle "434" graphic. There is very little to denote that this area could be a high school classroom — but that is precisely how it is used. In fact, open-plan classrooms like this make up the majority of learning spaces at Ørestad College. Tall bookcases are strategically placed between these "classrooms" to function as room dividers and visual screens.
In addition to the flexible classroom spaces, there are several short cylindrical "pods" throughout the building. These structures house small auditoriums with directional seating for quieter listening to lectures or multimedia presentations. The roofs of the pods are carpeted terraces that provide casual seating areas for students. Originally stocked with colorful bean bag chairs that proved insufficiently durable, the terraces now have modular wooden furniture.
Along the outer walls of the square plan, more-traditional classrooms such as science laboratories are arranged, albeit with glazed walls facing into the school and largely glazed inset outer walls with operable windows and narrow balconies. The large window areas allow daylight to penetrate into the interior spaces, one of the many integrated environmental strategies in the project. Other sustainable features include radiant floor heating and natural ventilation.
Each of the three classroom levels of the school also has clusters of tables for group work, areas with flat-screen computers, and a ring of lockers.
Managing Noise and Fire
Acoustics are an issue in any open space, and especially so at Ørestad, where the occupants are teenagers. "We found a balance between dampening the sound and yet maintaining some reverberation in order for the teachers to be able to reach the students verbally," says Nielsen.
Except for the facades, no vertical surfaces are parallel, meaning that the interior does not function as a square box, with sound bouncing around in a typical way. The interior angles allow sound to be reflected and focused in specific ways, and surfaces are designed for absorption.
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