LOŠBATES - a voluntary union of four municipalities to the East of Prague, in early 2018, floated an international competition for the design of a new elementary and art school for the children of the four constituent localities. JDAP [www.jdap.in] has proposed a scheme for the same in the form of a tightly integrated complex of buildings that deftly integrates with the surrounding community and landscape, forming a light, soft building envelope gently enclosing the school functions, allowing its inhabitants to claim it over time and make it their own.
Description from Architect:
The site for the new school lies at the edge of the village Lounovice and the forest that, with a new planned street connection to the highway connecting it to Prague, has its South West corner as the main point where the school meets the village. This becomes the School Piazza - a zone where the community comes together to meet, socialise and celebrate. As the forecourt to the school, this space is completely pedestrian and free of any vehicular movement barring bicycles.
The site is organised into four major Zones - the School zone in the prime central zone housing the primary, secondary and preparatory schools leading from the School Piazza, the Semi Public zone comprising the Auditorium, Art School and Gymnasium that sits to its North, the Car Park Zone along the Western edge of the site and the Greens to the East.
The main school functions are stratified vertically with the Secondary school placed above the Primary school with a central ‘street’ about which the classrooms are arranged. The street runs East-West and runs along both floors, one overlooking the other. The upper floor street descends via a wide staircase that looks onto the Piazza beyond.
The Preparatory school is an independent entity requiring its own entrance and outdoor space and is placed and entered to the South of the Elementary school. The three primary ‘Semi-Public’ functions - the Auditorium, the Art School and the Gymnasium are oriented in the North South direction allowing for a compact, shared lobby space from which all three are entered. The Art School requiring an independent functioning and a sense of openness and natural light is lifted to the upper level, whereas the Gymnasium from its need for a greater height, possibility of taking advantage of earth insulation and from a hygiene perspective has been sunk to a level below the main school level. This also allows for an overlooking seating and gallery space from the main public level.
A Unified Presence
Key to the design of the school building is the use of natural light and a connection with the outdoors. Light courts are carved into the building creating an immediate connection between the classroom and the outdoors and drawing natural light deep into the space. This also allows for a more compact building form that has environmental and economic benefits.
The main ‘street’ that is the primary circulation axis of the school is developed as a naturally lit, double height space - the Learning Commons, that is the main shared social space beyond the classrooms.
The formative unit of the school is the twinned classroom, each comprising the locker area, teaching zone and an attached alcove. The two classrooms are connected to each other both physically and visually and this unit is repeated on either side of the central East-West spine as well as the connecting North-South spines to form the elementary school space.
The classroom is seen as a space without walls - where a loose definition of an enclosing volume is created by the elements along the periphery of the space - the lockers, storage units and platforms. Corners of the space are opened up visually and the outer sides extend onto courtyards and terrace spaces so that the classroom may seamlessly extend beyond as the need arises.
Lockers get integrated into the ‘walls’ and are in the movement paths into and from the classrooms thus avoiding back and forth loops or lifeless locker rooms. Classrooms have ‘show windows’ onto the main movement spine - the Learning Commons that allow children to display their work to the ‘outside world’ and thus begin to claim and own their classroom spaces.
The Learning Commons
The underlying axis along which the Elementary school classrooms are organised is the East-West running central ‘street’ leading from the entrance of the school - The Learning Commons. A double height space with an overlooking parallel path along the upper floor, the Commons are the space where the boundaries are blurred and groupwork, relaxation and socialisation occur as natural extensions of the formal classroom spaces.
The School Library forms part of the Commons - rather than seeing the library as a closed space, it becomes a ‘city square’ along the ‘street’ of the Commons. Visible and accessed from both levels, the open bookshelves and reading areas lead from the Commons and extend into the green court so that children could read in the outdoors when the weather permits.
A Place of Pride
As much as the school serves its students, it is a valuable part and pride of the community. As the LOŠBATES union builds a space for its future generations, the expression of a public building that represents a community that is progressive, forward looking and optimistic grows into a school building that is an assertive yet friendly presence at the edge of the village. It is scaled down to its little inhabitants and yet sweeps with a singular gesture into a unified volume while retaining the delicateness of touch as a space for a young Learning Community.