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Vocational School Links Nature, Technology
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Exterior rendering of a three-story vocational school in Stadskanaal, the Netherlands
Construction has begun on a new 8,500 m2, three-story vocational school in Stadskanaal, the Netherlands, that joins nature with technology to create a bright, airy—and sustainable—space. A meandering canal in front of the building will increase the site’s water infiltration and pay homage to its historical waterways. © Mecanoo architecten

A new vocational school in Holland will meld technology and nature to create a sustainable school that appears to float on the water.

February 26, 2013—Construction has begun on a new vocational school in Stadskanaal, the Netherlands, that joins nature with technology to create a bright, airy—and sustainable—space in which students can focus on learning. The building provides sight lines to, and through, various departments so that students from disparate fields can be connected to what their peers are studying—be it nursing, cooking, or mechanical work. The site is located in an area known as the city’s “green lung.”

The 8,500 m2 three-story building contains a two-story aluminum- and glass-sided lower portion and an upper story clad in wood. A three-story interior central atrium will define the building, acting as the internal circulation point, while a large exterior cafeteria terrace overlooks the nearby sports fields, anchoring the building to its surroundings.

The building is being constructed on a 2 ha site that currently hosts the city’s sports fields. “In Holland, mostly the schools are in the middle of cities, so it’s wonderful to have such a green area,” says Sylvie Beugels, an associate architect at Delft-based Mecanoo architecten, the firm responsible for the design. The design team played off of the natural elements of the site in designing both the interior and exterior of the building, she says. 

 Interior rendering of a column-free central atrium displayed in the new vocational school

A column-free central atrium will define the building and act as the
internal circulation point for students and faculty. The school will
contain open sight lines throughout to create a sense of
community and camaraderie between various departments within
the school. © Mecanoo architecten

The structure will be founded on a grid of 15 m deep prefabricated concrete piles, the norm in the Netherlands. “There is a soft ground in all of Holland, so almost every building [that] has a few stories has a pile foundation,” Beugels says. A crawl space immediately above the foundation but beneath the building will afford flexibility, Beugels says, because machinery that will be tied to the ground floor can be untied and relocated if the school would like to reallocate space in the future.

Structurally, the building is based on a concrete column grid with precast concrete slab floors for maximum flexibility. Some of the columns have been offset from the grid to maximize useable space, according to Beugels. Three staircase shafts and supporting walls that abut the atrium provide the building’s lateral stability. The atrium is free of columns, a feat made possible by creating a light steel-slab roof with skylights, Beugels notes. The structural engineering for the building was completed by Geert van Oost, an engineer with the Haren-based engineering firm Ingenieursbureau Wassenaar BV.

Special detailing in the beams and their connections to the third story exterior walls enabled the design team to create an approximately 5 m deep, column-free exterior overhang between the second and third stories. “Normally you don’t make overhangs; you put a column under it and then it’s easy to solve,” Beugels says. “But here, it would be very inelegant to [use] a column, and it’s much more fragile and special to have it as if it floats, the wood part above the aluminum part.”

The third story will also be acoustically disconnected from the aluminum façade of the lower stories due to the heavy vibrations created by the machinery that will be used by students and faculty on the ground floor, she says.

 Exterior structural rendering of the new vocational school

The building features a two-story aluminum-and glass-sided lower
portion and an upper story clad in wood. A three-story interior
central atrium will define the building, acting as the internal
circulation point, while a large exterior cafeteria terrace
overlooks the nearby sports fields, anchoring the building to its
surroundings. © Mecanoo architecten

To maximize the clean lines and simplicity of the building, the design is being developed using Revit 3-D modeling software (produced by San Rafael, California-based Autodesk, Inc.), according to Beugels. The design team collaborated using building information modeling in order to control inconsistencies in the early stages of the design.

The school is characterized by open sight lines that not only will channel daylight deep into the building, but also create a sense of community between various departments. Students—ages 14 to 24—and faculty can see the work that is taking place around the building simultaneously, Beugels says. This lack of so-called “hidden” spaces is a key characteristic of most schools in Holland, Beugels says, used in part to eliminate places in which bullying and harassment might take place.

Because of the school’s location among the sports fields, every side of the building had to be beautiful, Beugels says. This was complicated by the hands-on training mission of the school, which involves a large amount of material and waste coming and going from the building during a normal school week. The design team effectively concealed the delivery and waste spaces of the building by using an aluminum sliding door system similar to those used in car showrooms. The doors can be slid up and down as necessary to access the delivery and trash space.

Sustainability is integrated into the building at a fundamental level, Beugels says. In addition to being lit by natural light, the building contains operable windows and will be heated and cooled with a geothermal system. The site is also close to mass transit and easily reached by bicycle. The design received a Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) rating of very good.

The site is historically famous for the peat that the impoverished people of the area could harvest and burn to heat their homes, according to Beugels. Canals to drain the peat were also well known historical elements of the site, an aspect that the design team mimicked by creating a highly visible meandering canal excavated to a depth of approximately 2 m in front of the school, she says. The canal also increases the water infiltration capacity of the site, a requirement in the Netherlands when a new building decreases a site’s ground surface area, she says.

The result is a school building that appears to float on the water, surrounded by wooden paths and green fields. It is an idyllic location for a new school in a system dedicated to hands-on, professional training.

Construction of the new building officially kicked off on February 7; the €10,300,000 (U.S.$13,657,800) building is expected to be completed and ready for use by September 2014.


 

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