School is not a factory

Kolakowski, Marcin Mateusz (1998) School is not a factory. Architektura & Biznes, 74 (9). pp. 24-28. ISSN 1230-1817

School Is Not a Factory
1998_09-Szkoła nie jest Fabryką-02.pdf - Whole Document

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The Mid Sweden University in Sundsvall, Sweden is a proof that in architecture much can be offered by such values as human scale, context, wit, wealth of forms and places created for meeting people. Arken Arkitekter have proposed a new type of a higher-education institution which would make close contact with its users.
In this new formula, context is sought in history and the landscape. The 13,000sqm complex is a kind of settlement linking the town with its outskirts. From the town, the school is accessed via two new pedestrian bridges which tie in with the existing system of footpaths and alleys. The area of 19,600sqm of the campus descends in steps into the Selängersan river meander. Trees and good access for vehicles create the unique quality of the place. The design was selected in 1992, in a competition for university branches for 5,000 students.
The architectural concept shows affinity with the Swedish tradition of granaries. Several of these old structures can still be seen in the port of Sundsvall. The new building resembles them in that its gable walls face the water, and also in such elements as brick walls, mansards, or the characte¬ristic chimneys.
The building does not attempt to dominate its surroun¬dings by its form, volume or height, although it could be entitled to such domination, considering its function. It does however endow the neighbouring houses with some of its noble character. The various parts of the building were designed in such a way as to minimize its impact on the existing natural surroundings, so that some of its dimen¬sions were actually dictated by the distances between trees.
At a glance, the solid with massive protrusions may resemble a multicoloured terraced-house development. It is a joke of sorts, with a double meaning. This makes one think of the vision of a university in the modem world. The Sundsvall school is a contrast to the image of other higher-education institutions seen as temples, factories, or even supermarkets, where knowledge is bought ano¬nymously. Decentralised places which are perfect for meetings reflect the diversity of liberated education. It is a "granary" school whence anyone can freely draw the grain of knowledge, as much as they need or can carry away.
The structuring of the building is not chaotic, as it might seem at first, but quite a harmonious system. The two wings of the building, buckled together by the cylinder of the rotunda, are placed on the slope descending towards the river. The level difference has been used brilliantly here. At the altitude of the main entrance, the university embraces the central court in its “arms." Hence, steep footpaths will lead you a level lower, towards the promenade along the river—from which the lowest level entrances can be accessed. This level, partly underground, houses classrooms, a restaurant, and technical services. A corridor links all faculties. Owing to the fact that the underground spine of the school runs under the alleys and the squares, the whole makes an impression of several independent buildings. This is how the interior is literally interwoven with the exterior.
A key point in Arken Arkitekter's considerations was the grading of privacy. Open places include well-lit, large atriums, linking the independent faculty units. During long Scandinavian winters, a special quality of these places is the possibility of having contact with the surrounding nature—vegetation and the sky—without leaving the building.
What’s surprising is the multitude of materials used and some juxtapositions of textures and colours. Architects say that the Sundsvall University should be a granary accu¬mulating various materials and climates. Natural materials prevail, all in warm tones, hardly processed. Is this just careless play? I don’t think so. Such an ambience in a school goes well with respect for the diversity of students’ characters and personalities. The places which have been created definitely cannot be called anonymous. The Stockholm-based architects showed that postmodernist experiments with materials are closer to man than the tasteful but boring seriousness of the minimalists.
This architecture works not so much for the students as with them. The spirit of persuasion for the sake of the only truth is not found here. No dominating central point is sensed either. Instead, numerous places have been offered—yes, not imposed, but offered. The ingeniously designed niches with benches and tables are scattered throughout the building and around it. They encourage people to meet and talk, and to exchange opinions which is the most essential element of education.
Too many schools have been built based on a plan resembling a production line. A school is not a factory. At a time when lots of architects are susceptible to the idea that a mile of glass is beautiful, and two miles of it are just gorgeous, isn’t there a more important task for the architect to create places where people can and want to meet?

Keywords:Architecture, University buildings, Educational buildings
Subjects:K Architecture, Building and Planning > K200 Building
K Architecture, Building and Planning > K110 Architectural Design Theory
K Architecture, Building and Planning > K100 Architecture
Divisions:College of Arts > School of Architecture & Design > School of Architecture & Design (Architecture)
ID Code:18212
Deposited On:04 Aug 2015 18:50

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