A School on the Countryside
The rural market town Bütze-Wolfurt in the Bregenz district of Vorarlberg wanted to enlarge their primary school and integrate the neighboring kindergarten and day care center. The decision was made to completely refurbish the old three-story building from the 1960s and demolish the part from the 1990s due to structural reasons. The gymnasium in the basement was preserved and built over with two new floors. The new 60-meter-long and 27-meter-high timber-frame volume with a smooth wood-clad façade and a plastered plinth – details which were also taken over on the existing building – now forms a harmonious extension of the school complex. The new structure with a pergola at each end integrates calmly into the scenic beauty of lush fields and trees and the rural character of the town.
The pergolas at the ends of the new building, with their wood slats and galvanized steel stairways, balconies, and coffered ceilings, are important design elements, which – in contrast to the subtle articulation of the main façade – form a “second, more intimate face” to public space. The “verandas” also serve as emergency escape routes and act like “gills” to the lush green fields, tobogganing hills, and orchards. Furthermore, they also reveal the structure of the building. When it rains, the children can romp around in this “in-between zone” or eat their lunch on the wood benches. When it is hot, they can rest here in the shadows. Depending on the time of day and season, the wood slats create a fascinating interplay of light and shadows. Regardless if they have their class on the ground floor or the first, all children can use this area to directly access the garden, without having to make a detour via the main staircase in the building.
The Floor Plan
The refurbished three-story building from the 1960s docks perpendicularly onto the two-story new building. The kindergarten is located in the new building, the primary school in both the existing building and the new. They share a common entrance area. The floor plans of the kindergarten and the primary school interlock vertically and horizontally. Together they are conceived as a single spatial continuum, a shared learning landscape with diverse spatial atmospheres across all floors. The spatial and pedagogical novelty of combining a kindergarten and a primary school under one roof with such closely intertwined floor plans should help the children slip smoothly into their everyday school activities, make what growing up means more tangible, and create numerous synergies.
For example, from their dressing room on the ground floor the little ones can look through big windows into the gymnasium, where the school children are perhaps attending a physical education class. Likewise, the young pupils on the first floor, in turn, have the opportunity to view down into the kindergarten on the ground floor, where the little ones are eating their lunch, and remember back to a day when they were that small, too.
Two day care and three kindergarten rooms are situated on the ground floor of the existing building. The two-story extension – with a total of 14 classrooms and 12 group rooms on the first floor and the spacious, volleyball-height gymnasium in the basement – is accessed via a staircase in the old building, which was shifted toward the midpoint of the complex.
The floor plan consists of three layers: At the core are the meandering communal areas from where the children have direct access to the verandas. They are generously designed, broad spaces, which can be used for a diverse range of functions. There is sufficient room for the children to run around and play safely without – literally – anything “standing in their way”. “Courtyards” with built-in benches, roofed by large skylights, invite one to rest, cuddle up, or to study in peace. Square rooms with big inner windows for small groups form the second layer. And the third layer in succession is made up of the bigger classrooms with windows to the outside, whose sills have been fitted to the seating height of primary school pupils. The classic long corridors with “dead ends” have consciously been avoided in this learning landscape.
On the second floor of the primary school are the teacher rooms, the staff kitchen, a doctor’s room, the director’s office, the secretary’s room, textile and other workshops, and a gymnastics and multi-purpose room.
The Sun as Designer
All rooms are flooded by sunlight via the numerous pitched skylights and windows. The interplay of light and shadow nuances the different ambiences of the spaces for learning, playing, and relaxing.
The numerous large windows with broad sills for sitting offer exciting sightlines through a level but also to the floors above and below (kindergarten and gymnasium). The children can orient themselves easily and autonomously, communicate with one another, and have an overview of what is going on in the building – when they want to concentrate, they just have to close the windows with the subtly colored translucent curtains.
Less Is More
The window frames, built-in elements, furniture, and parquet floors are made of oak with a high-quality finishing by local carpenters. The passive house was built pursuant to the strict energy and ecological requirements of the Climate Alliance of Austrian Municipalities, the Municipal Building Logbook, and the baubook (www.baubook.info). A noteworthy fact was that this also applies to the existing building. The white varnished ceiling panels made of wood wool ensure pleasant acoustics and a healthy environment for the little ones. The accentuating textiles are kept in reduced colors – the true color is added by the children themselves. Mobile shelves and rolling containers allow flexible and individual arrangements of the spaces. The outer façade design with vertical preweathered spruce and bands of windows along the complete length of the building are inspired by local building traditions in Vorarlberg.
Schenker Salvi Weber Architekten ZT GmbH was founded by Andres Schenker, Michael Salvi and Thomas Weber in Vienna and Bern in 2009. Its 28 employees are currently realising office, school and housing projects in Austria, Germany and Switzerland. The office’s objective is to work in a cooperative process with clients and all other participants to ensure the development of the ideal project. The quality of the team’s work is embodied by the way in which it continuously readdresses projects until the best and most creative solution has been found. In addition to Post am Rochus, further examples of current projects by Schenker Salvi Weber include educational buildings (Absam Dorf, Wolfurt primary schools and the FvS Rösrath-Köln school complex), care buildings (Heime der Franziskanerinnen Vienna, Stiftung Aarhus, Bern) and residential projects like Sillblock in Innsbruck and Wohnen am Eisweiher in Lörrach