The aim of modern school construction is to support new forms of teaching architecturally - that is, the equal participation of all pupils and lessons tailored to individual needs – and to facilitate inclusion. Cluster schools, which have long been standard in Scandinavia, are also slowly gaining ground in Austria. The pedagogical concept behind this idea is concerned with teaching in small groups, flexible usable spaces and diversified open areas, preferably outdoors. Inflexible floor plans have been characteristically dispensed with: There are no classrooms along the access corridors; instead, open layouts allow different forms of teaching and learning. In recent years, various local school buildings have been architecturally implementing these requirements in a very different manner. $$Dietrich | Untertrifaller have delivered a radical, uncompromising example in the recently completed Unterdorf elementary school in the Vorarlberg municipality of Höchst.
The Unterdorf elementary school in Höchst is a radical, uncompromising example of a modern cluster school. In a plain, elongated, ground-level wooden building, four identical clusters are placed on the east side. The special education classes and the admin area are located on the west side, connected with the gym by a spacious hall. The clusters comprise two classrooms, an open group area and a relaxation room as well as toilets and wardrobes around a top-lighted lounge with a raised roof. A direct exit into a private garden and the outdoor classroom area includes the exterior space and enables short access routes.$$ “There are no hierarchies in a one-storey school building; all children have equal access to the outdoor areas and special classes,” explains Managing Partner Patrick Stremler the basic design idea.
Large glazing provide transparency so that the teachers can always see their students, for example, when they are learning or playing in small groups in different rooms. These visual axes also are a constant invitation to use the space in the middle, strengthening the sense of community within the cluster. Parts of the outdoor areas are available to locals as a freely accessible play and leisure area.
The entire school is of pure, unclad timber construction that is visible in every room. Students benefit from a pleasant, warm atmosphere in the building, which also saves on heating costs. $$The renewable, regional building material dramatically reduces the “gray” energy factor. With 940 points, the school in Unterdorf has been awarded one of the highest values for a new building in Vorarlberg’s “communal building records”. This pilot project sets a new standard for schools in Austria and, hopefully, will stimulate further timber construction in Austria.
A working group made up of teachers, community representatives and consultants was involved from the outset in the competition's bidding stage as well as the planning, and also regularly participated in the building meetings. $$This close cooperation was a key factor in the successful implementation of this trendsetting pilot project, which implements a new standard for schools in Austria and, hopefully, will stimulate further timber construction in Austria.
The possibility of prefabrication is also important in school construction, in addition to other advantages of wood as a construction material. "The construction times for schools are often very limited, since the school process in existing buildings must not be disturbed and actually only the holidays are available for the rough work. Here we have a clear advantage with the high degree of prefabrication in timber construction. $$We are experiencing that public clients in particular, but also private ones, are very open to timber construction and understand their responsibility towards society," says Patrick Stremler of Dietrich | Untertrifaller.
A timber construction is first of all a bit more complex to plan, which is also due to the fact that the industry has maintained a certain diversity to this day, where there is more standardisation and standardisation for steel or concrete. It is also important that the planners need to be determined earlier if the possibilities of prefabrication are to be fully exploited. $$When it comes to wood, you have to know right from the planning stage, where the socket goes - with bricks it's enough to put a cross on the construction site and the electrician does the rest with the drill. The gladly practiced In this sense, planning during construction would be almost deadly in timber construction.