Project in Detail
Elementary School 'Dender'
Compagnie-O. architecten, Ghent, Belgium
World Architecture Festival 2010 - Shortlisted
Elementary School 'Dender'
History & Program:
The early 70’s school is settled in an amorphous and dense inner area of the historical Flemish town of Geraardsbergen aside the river ‘dender’. The brief of the "Open Oproep", an architectural competition organized by the Flemish Government, asked for a considerable extension of the overcrowded school with 8 classrooms and a multifunctional sports hall.
This project proposal won the competition in 2003, the execution started at the end of 2007 and was completed in July 2009.
We proposed to separate the classrooms and the sports hall in two distinct volumes in order to reduce the volumetric impact on the site.
The volume with the classrooms is designed as a thin, vertical slab, smacked along the existing building. This enabled us to reuse both the existing broad hallways and the spacious 70’s standard ceiling height. Due to the considerable gain of square meters, the classrooms became larger as well as higher than nowadays standards: spaciousness with a splendid view on the city.
At the same time the classroom wing operates as a ‘facelift’ of the existing worn-out architecture. The new façade plays with the rational 70’s language, challenging it with altering rhythms, varying transparencies and randomly jumping Muybridge figures.
The sports hall is conceived as a flat hollow and luminous box, pushed down against the school in order to keep the inner-area as spacious as possible. A steel canopy surrounds the hall, reducing its scale, giving shelter and marking the renewed entrance area of the school. Several look through’s connect inside with outside. The sports hall can function independently by the addition of an extra entrance, facing the street. This is an important aspect for the school, aiming to become a "broad and open school" in the near future.
The volumetric concept in short:
The new classrooms, stacked as a cupboard against the existing school
The polyvalent sports hall, a cobblestone thrown midst the daily flux of pupils, teachers, parents.
In between inside and outside:
On the inside, the interface between existing and the new is shaped by a 36meter long case topped with a window bay. This case, alternating from library, small working spaces to a technical box, accommodates both the hallway and classrooms.
We used a highly kinetic multicolored print to cover the overall of the case.
The print, representing parts of DNA, challenges the use of primary colors and clearly outlined shapes, so uncritical common when dealing with children.
By blurring what is supposed to be obvious we try to introduce uncertainty as a quality. The image never stops, the colors keep on flying.
The magnificent outlook from the classrooms to the city of Geraardsbergen, is filtered by a glazed curtain wall.
Facing north and thanks to the oversized ceiling height we were able to use glass excessively, exploring the possibilities of this material beyond its common technical qualities.
a patchwork of five types of white-colored glass with varying transparencies is scattered randomly over the façade. The view becomes partially blocked and blurred. Continuity is no longer obvious. Reality as a jigsaw.
Between these white-outs jumps a weird white fellow based on the photographic research on movement by Muybridge. Challenging rabbits an bears and butterflies this never ending kinetic series offer the possibility of escape.
With this project, we try to escape from the predominating ‘infantilisation’ or the so-called ‘disneyfication’ of children in general by offering spaciousness and singularity instead of the common childishly aesthetics. We love to leave them in a peculiar environment, hoping they'll respond to it in an authentic, unforeseen way.
Client / Developer
GO gemeenschapsonderwijs Vlaanderen