Social professions are growing fast in modern society, so it is no surprise that the Hannah Arendt school in Bozen - a vocational institute for such professions - has seen enrolments skyrocket, resulting in a real need for more classroom and practical space.
The school sits in the city, between a park and a listed Capuchin monastery that, even though it is still used by the religious order, houses an overflow from the school. It was these elements that guided the design by Claudio Lucchin & Architetti Associati to find a solution that respects the binding visual and spatial relations. The school needed an additional 9 classrooms, 6 laboratories (for specialised practice, including an IT suite) and individual workstations. Given the need for such a significant extension, the architects chose to go underground to ensure the teaching facilities would be big enough and of sufficient quality. As such, an area was earmarked between the historical building and the previous extension. Four underground floors were built, although only three are for the classrooms and labs, as the fourth one is smaller and accessible via an external staircase, making it suitable for the utilities and installations. The core of the extension is a large rectangular skylight located on the ground floor. It actually forms part of the normal floor, but provides light to the central, rectangular courtyard located on the third underground level, creating a place for students to rest and meet. The placement of the benches here spells LFS, which are the initials of Landesfachschule für Sozialberuf (i.e. vocational provincial school for social professions). Each level has four classrooms and labs that overlook this underground courtyard (two each on the longer side of the courtyard rectangle). The use of full-height glazing maximises the natural light in the teaching areas. Further skylights and a skylight well provide natural light for the remaining rooms and the IT suite, the individual study areas and the small winter garden on the third below-ground level.
The extension has a sort of a double box-like envelope. The outer envelope is where the digging ended and has been shored up using micropiles that are right against the soil. Insulation, a coating sheath and spray coating offer a thick layer of protection against the outside (in this case the bottom of the dig), where the volume of the longitudinal beams is clear. The shape of the outer walls is irregular, non-linear, showing the roughness of “digging in progress”. The inner envelope is made of concrete, metal sheets and glazed walls to define the teaching spaces and volumes. Walkways provide horizontal access, running longitudinally between the dig perimeter and the teaching area. Floor lights mark where to walk, reflecting the colour variations onto the irregular perimeter wall, alluding to the passing of time despite being underground. The pleasing, overall feel comes from a series of elements: the brightly coloured furniture and stairs, the large protruding writing (to indicate floors, levels and functions), visible materials (concrete panels, black metal sheets for the corridors), the integration of natural and artificial light and the sky visible through the skylights. The ultimate goal is to make this a high quality, liveable space, just as one would expect from an above-ground building. Climate control is clearly fundamental in ensuring such quality: a forced ventilation system with adjustable settings; protection from dampness and radon; and climate control to prevent internal heat building up from the lighting and concentrations of people, especially during lessons.
This extension to the Hannah Arendt school is an extremely complex design, with notable technical solutions, architectural quality and spatial organisation to guarantee liveability and functionality. The result is an underground construction that, used on a daily basis, is comparable to a traditional above-ground building, using design features to overcome problem areas.