Community sports halls are a somewhat marginalised building type, even though they provide programmes central to local communities and have a specific, rather noble social function. They belong to buildings with largest interiors fit for public gatherings such as fairs, concerts, and, of course, sporting events. They often make part of school building complexes and become functional and symbolic centres of small communities with limited public architecture. Besides the urban and symbolic function, sports halls also accommodate important social processes, not only for the youth, for whom they are primarily intended, but also for everyone else. School halls can also provide alternative learning space during breaks with rules different from those children are accustomed to in classrooms or in everyday urban or rural communities. Zlatar Bistrica is a small town located in one of the few plains of otherwise hilly Hrvatsko Zagorje in northwest Croatia, a town with but a few distinct urban features, such as the school, church, and community health centre scattered along the two main roads. Withdrawn further away from the main roads, the school and the church do not define the street view leaving it mainly rural. The school complex is in symbiosis with its rural environment; its neat, relatively neutral modern architecture defines the access square on two sides, while the remaining two sides border with a typical rural property with outbuildings. The western perimeter of the school square used to border with a sports hall that had been destroyed by fire, and the new hall project inherited its former orientation. The hall has been placed on a lot sloping toward the west and configured to respond to the given urban and topographic determinants. The perimeter around the hall is designed to establish connection between the school square and the lower plateau with open court and school parking lot for the school bus and vehicles bringing children from neighbouring villages. From there runs the main pedestrian access configured as a system of a stairway and a ramp. The interior reflects this sloping exterior pedestrian configuration. The facade that opens to the school square with glazed ground level and entrance allows the public square space to enter the interior and then cascade down the grandstand staircase to the lower sporting level, which is why the square has a clear view of what happens in the hall and vice versa. The square and the hall interior complement each other and exchange views in an almost seamless and direct shift between what goes on in the hall and outside. The outer layer of the hall is made of translucent polycarbonate, which at night turns the entire volume of the building into a lantern illuminating the school square and the surrounding area. Much attention has been given to incorporating customised prefab elements. Instead of using generic prefab panels, its done in cooperation with the company specialised for concrete prefabs to develop a unique type of panels with the outer and inner layer made of pigmented black concrete and thermal isolation in between. The way the panels are mounted is also specific. Horizontal panels placed at an angle from the vertical like shutters to let in diffuse light. The panels are mounted on a steel structure fixed to prefabricated concrete pillars, and their lower, gaping end is closed with polycarbonate. The lowest row of panels gapes at the greatest angle from the vertical, which gradually diminishes with each new row going upwards. Such a configuration provides enough diffuse light to the interior, prevents glare, and provides better protection from the western sun and heat in the warm season. The exterior, in turn, has a dynamic, rhythmical texture thanks to the slanted panels. Additional hues and even colours are obtained with different slanting of the panel rows as they reflect the colour of the sky differently. On an average overcast noon these hues and colours span from lead grey to matte dark green, while on a clear sunset the colours can even become warm. At night, the western facade is distinguished by horizontal stripes of light emitting from the interior on the pavement running along the sports court. Panels on the gable walls are not as polished as the west façade and yield a greenish texture of the aggregate diabase bearing reference to greenstone slates from the nearby Medvednica mountain, which used to be a popular local construction material, now completely exhausted. Interior space and surfaces, including the ceiling, are configured to reflect the precise geometry of the bearing prefab elements. Load-bearing verticals and horizontal beams are made of concrete prefabs, also in black. They carry the grid-like structure of the roof made of laminated wood supports, whose light material contrasts the heavy concrete skeleton. Modular configuration of building and infrastructural elements are important and also integrated artificial lighting and HVAC equipment into the geometry of the whole. Grandstands are fixed, wood-panelled cascade descending from the square and entrance on one side to the sports courts on the other. It gives an air of a representative public space comparable to monumental urban staircases that invite people to gather there and socialise. This concept of socialisation during leisure time is exactly what was intention on spatial continuity. This grandstand is a specific interior landscape that gives children and others the liberty to use it as creatively as they see fit. Secondary facilities such as changing rooms, toilets, and corridors showcase design with the simplest of materials and equipment. Toilets and showers are visually playful and rather distinct as they combine black grout lines with yellow and white tiles, whereas elements such as lockers, benches, and partitions follow the same consistent modular configuration as the rest of the sports hall.
Ivan Galić, Mr. Arch. established NOP Studio in 2005 in Zagreb, Croatia. In 2008 he received the „Drago Galić“ award for best residential housing, in 2008 and 2018 Cemex Building Awards and in 2017 IF Design award for an electric vehicle charging station. Other notable award nominations include 2008 Piranesi and Mies Van der Rohe award as well as 2011 and 2021 Croatian Architects' Association "Viktor Kovačić" award nomination (for best architectural achievement in Croatia).
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