The project Terra Madre, recently completed, is the winner of a design competition for the construction of a new nursery school and public plaza, organised by the City of Bisceglie as part of the “Qualità Italia” programme promoted by the MiBAC – Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities.
The site is located in the suburbs of Bisceglie, a medium size city of about 55.000 inhabitants and with a density of 800person/kmq, located in the region of Puglia in Southern Italy. The project is in the center of a new residential neighborhood of recently constructed affordable housing of 3, 4 and 5 stories with very few commercial activities on the ground floor.
The architectural design of the school emphasizes a plan diagram that is strongly characterized by a striated organization, alternating indoor "served" and "serving" spaces defined by parallel walls. This parti is intersected by a fluid system to define the completely enclosed outdoor courtyard that is wrapped with a glazed corridor which acts as the building's primary circulation, "knotting" and connecting all of its functional programs: entrance foyer in connection with the adjacent public piazza, six classrooms (for 30 students each), cafeteria and adjoined kitchen, offices and faculty rooms, service and technical spaces, etc.
More specifically, the central, common, outdoor classroom functions to create a microclimate that harbours the re-establishment of the typical natural landscape of the region using native plants and trees to educate children of their regional environment. The space reinforces the school's emphasis on the environment by being connected both visibly and directly to every primary room within the school.
Six parallel interior classrooms, with different colour of the pavement, feature glazed northern and southern partitions that visually extend to outdoor spaces also designed for learning activities. The extensive use of glass facades is designed to create a strong relationship between indoor and outdoor spaces and also provides balanced natural lighting, reducing dependency on energy consumptive artificial lighting.
More specifically, the northern partition of each classroom intersects the school's primary circulation corridor whose glazed walls ensure a visual connection to the central outdoor space. Similarly, each classroom's southern glazed partition connects to its own private outdoor educational space where deciduous trees and wooden canopies naturally protect it from excessive summer radiation.
The result is a direct connection, afforded by the glazed partition, that blurs the definition between exterior and interior space creating a unique atmosphere that emphasizes the importance of outdoor activities as a didactic strategy. For security reasons, to create a “sense of belonging” and for educational purposes the glass partitions of each classroom are decorated with artistic stickers with original drawings that reproduce images of different eco-systems in the planet: the desert, the savannah, the jungle, the Mediterranean, the alpine region, the polo Nord and South.
The project evokes a profound metaphoric and aesthetic link with Mother Nature through an ethereal womb-like characteristics of a curvaceous central courtyard and through the outer gardens in the perimeter with vegetable gardens, small orchards and fruit trees. These outdoor spaces directly integrate ecological and environmental education into everyday academic experiences using the innovative design of gardens and by offering dynamic learning opportunities that invoke all five senses: Sight (colors of flowers, fruits and butterflies; textures of plants, soil and rock; movement of wind, insects and birds), Sound (rhythms of rain and wind; voices of birds, frogs and insects; rustling of dry leaves), Touch (textures of materials, plants and soil; sensations of cold, warm, dry and wet), Taste (sampling fruits, vegetables and herbs picked directly from the gardens), Smell (scents of Mediterranean herbs, rich soil, ripened fruits and blooming flowers).
The structure of reinforced masonry piers was selected for its insulating/thermal inertia, acoustic insulation characteristics, fire safety and for its exceptional performance in an area subject to seismic activity.
Reinforcing the project’s evident attention to the environment is the extensive use of sustainable materials and passive systems that reduce energy consumption during construction and the life of the building. Important examples include: the correct orientation of the building and its different spaces, the particular form of the building and the open central courtyard which favours natural illumination and ventilation, the high-performance insulating values of the external envelope, thermal glazing units and solar control devices, as well as the introduction of a wood pergola to shade the large windows. All of this is coupled with the use of LED light fixtures inside the school and in the plaza. The production of all energy from renewable resources, using a heat pump with an elevated COP, coupled with the collection and storage of rainwater, made it possible to achieve the important objective of an “Nearly Zero Energy Building”, with an A4 rating. In particular, the roof features 40kW of integrated photovoltaic panels that produce all of the energy required by the school. What is more, the innovative use of approximately 30kW of storage batteries, provides the building with sufficient energy for bad weather days or for the nighttime illumination of the school, the gardens, the plaza and the adjacent streets.
“PERALTA – design&consulting”, is an award winning practice specialized in the design of public and private architecture, interior design, urban and landscape design with a specific interest in experimentation and application of environmentally sensitive technologies. The studio has an internal staff of architects and engineers and, along with a network of important consultants and collaborators in Italy and abroad, has successfully collaborated on many projects. Luca Peralta, the founder and the director, is a registered engineer and architect: member of the Italian Association of Building and Environmental Engineers and the Architects Registration Board of London, UK.