A modular wooden system for the schools of the future
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A modular wooden system for the schools of the future

OMA and Circlewood’s project selected by the city of Amsterdam as part of the "Innovation Partnership School Buildings" program

OMA | Circlewood

A modular wooden system for the schools of the future
By Editorial Staff -

OMA design studio, in collaboration with Circlewood collective, has developed a modular wooden system for the construction of new schools for the city of Amsterdam. The system, designed by OMA architects David Gianotten and Michael den Otter, was born in response to the Innovation Partnership School Buildings programme, an initiative run by the Dutch municipality for the construction of new schools.


Innovation Partnership School Buildings

According to the Amsterdam Circular 2020-2025 Strategy, the city will halve its use of primary raw materials by 2030 and become fully circular by 2050. To meet Amsterdam’s sustainability ambitions and the increasing demand for schools, the city government has launched the Innovation Partnership School Buildings program to build between nine and thirty 'high quality, flexible and sustainable' schools over the next ten years. In response to this initiative, Circlewood, a collective of architects, engineers, builders and researchers, under the guidance of OMA as creative director and co-designer, has developed the HoutKern Bouwmethode, a modular timber construction system to create a variety of schools, which can be easily transformed and adapt throughout the schools’ lifecycles to accommodate changing needs.

“With this system, the new schools that will be built in Amsterdam, and hopefully elsewhere in the Netherlands, can expand, downscale, or vary in configurations to respond to different needs over time. When a school closes, the building can be fully dismantled, and all the components become construction materials again" David Gianotten, Managing Partner of OMA.

Innovation Partnership School Buildings Model by OMA with Circlewood © Arthur Wong, courtesy of OMA


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A durable, adaptable, and modular system

The “plug and play” prefabricated system consists of standardized wooden elements, connected to each other by recycled steel joints. All components are manufactured in the factory with a digitally controlled process to ensure rapid assembly and disassembly on site, by an electric crane. These components are arranged into structural frameworks, 3.6 m wide and 7.2 m long - up to three story high - which leave total freedom in the distribution of non-load-bearing partition walls. In this way, spaces of different sizes and uses can be created: from standard-size classrooms and offices to the auditorium and gym, up to gardens and athletics tracks. Bio-based partition walls can be adapted to support different school activities such as indoor climbing and vertical farming. This system allows each school, architects and other consultants to work together to define a building with unique characteristics.

As Michael den Otter, Project Architect at OMA explains, «the system components are durable, adaptable and easily assembled. This offers flexibility for the schools to shape learning environments that suit their identities."

With this system, OMA and Circlewood have redefined the concept of school, transforming it into a pedagogical tool that increases students' awareness of human impact on the environment. Contrary to greenwashing, these schools visualize carbon footprints and resource consumption through interactive information screens. The buildings represent an intrinsically circular innovation, with carbon emissions reduced to a minimum: thanks to the prefabrication, nitrogen emissions are drastically reduced. Additionally, bio-based walls absorb carbon, helping to mitigate the greenhouse effect. With a circular economy mindset, all building components are designed to be fully reusable, maximizing long-term sustainability.

Innovation Partnership School Buildings Pilot School © Studio A Kwadraat, courtesy of OMA


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HoutKern Bouwmethode, innovative and unique solutions

OMA, as Creative Director of Circlewood, will work with young architecture firms and landscape designers to develop the new schools within the program. The pilot project, for a school in Amsterdam, has already been developed in collaboration with Studio A Kwadraat. The building, with a compact shape, has a spacious multipurpose central hall, and different types of openings on the facade that offer children a framework for perceiving the environment. On the outside, each elevation is unique, enriched by sheds, bicycle storage and other elements that meet the specific needs of the school.

The collaborative approach between OMA, Circlewood and the selected architectural firms will guarantee the creation of innovative and tailor-made solutions for each school, responding to the city's sustainability needs. The flexibility and adaptability of the buildings thus conceived allow to face future challenges and to create unique environments that inspire learning and favour the growth of young students.


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Location: Amsterdam
Architect: OMA, Circlewood

Photography by Arthur Wong, courtesy of OMA

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