The small town of Porto Potenza Picena has a new elementary school, distinguished by the importance given to its common spaces
A contemporary school needs to be able to embody the values of a century while also transmitting the values of education through the quality and organization of its spaces. After all, architecture has the ability to influence the people who use it – children in this case. This was the philosophy behind the design of the new Rita Levi Montalcini elementary school in the Italian beachside town of Porto Potenza Picena. With the project by Settanta7, these fundamental values can be seen in the importance given to the interior and exterior common areas. Like a protective embrace, its C-shaped plan encloses a central garden that children can experience both during breaks and at class time. While the space is intended for recreation, it’s also, and in particular, a place to be explored for its potential for educational stimulus, helping children grow through direct contact with the outdoors, including the surrounding urban fabric. In effect, it’s an open-air classroom.
Equally important, especially during cold weather and to achieve a consistently high quality and comfortable school environment, are the indoor common connecting spaces and the meeting place created by the stairs. Besides being a place where kids can meet during breaks, the latter area can host more structured meetings, out-of-classroom activities, group work, or even individual study. These features combine in flexible, fluid rooms that merge with each other and with very few solid partitions. The section of the school overlooking the internal courtyard, in particular, is distinguished by the transparency of its openings, which extend the indoor spaces at ground level out into the yard, and, through the solids and voids that enhance the outdoor space, also onto the upper floor with its large terraces.
Natural light was another priority during the design phase. The 24 classrooms, which each accommodate around 25 students, have been organized for the greatest incidence of sunlight. Besides the classrooms, the school has a library, canteen, gym, and an auditorium. The last two facilities are also open to the non-school community. The auditorium and classrooms are finished with sound-absorbing panels to ensure good levels of acoustic comfort for a range of activities. The overall project centers on creating a comfortable, healthy, energy-efficient school building that reflects the principles of bioclimatic architecture.
From this perspective, the materials used play a decisive role. Most of them are eco-compatible and natural, including Celenit, linoleum, CLT, and glulam. The construction technology used for the wooden structure, CLT framing, has made it possible to create a large but light structure, with excellent mechanical, thermal, and acoustic properties, that effectively imparts a feeling of wellbeing. The external zinc-titanium cladding is also a significant part of the design. Although a traditional material, it’s been interpreted here in a uniquely contemporary way, transforming the façade into both an expressive and functional element. The material, in a shade of Mediterranean Blue, is 100% recyclable. The rhythm of the building envelope created by the interplay between the levels of the cladding, and the door and window openings gives the school a contemporary aesthetic, ready to dialogue with the surrounding urban fabric both today and tomorrow.
Location: Porto Potenza Picena, Macerata, Italy
Client: Comune di Potenza Picena (MC)
Area: 5.034 m2
Photography by Francesca Iovene, courtesy of Settanta7