Creativity within clear frames

In an old industrial town, Strømmen, some 20 kilometres from Oslo in Norway, White arkitekter has completed a new secondary school, Bråtejordet Skole. It is the first development in a new residential area. The school provides an innovative learning environment within a traditional education framework.

White won the project through a design competition competing against 28 local Norwegian practices. The winning scheme “Rammer og nivåer” (frames and levels).was highly commended for its holistic approach. The proposal is founded on clear structures, where spatial thresholds serve as natural boundaries, between school and community as well as between different parts of the school. This creates a calm and secure educational learning environment – entirely in line with the desires of the school leadership – which allows students to focus in their study.

The transition from the town to the classroom takes place via four distinct spaces: Tunet (the yard ), Platået (the plateau), Boksen (the box) and Rommet (the room).

Tunet is the changeover zone, where you leave the surrounding community and enter the active schoolyard. It is lined with trees providing a clear demarcation and is divided into fields that allude to the surrounding agricultural landscape, with a social area incorporating picnic benches and a stepped seating stage in the area sheltered by the L-shaped plan of the building.

The next level, Platået, is the school’s entrance concourse, which is raised on a plinth 1m above the street. Large glazed wall sections provide views out across the surrounding landscape and the expansive high ceilings are animated with a pattern of roof lights which flood the room with daylight. Design workshops, music studios, a library and administration are organised around this central room, creating a dynamic space that functions as foyer, canteen and assembly hall.

The upper level, Boksen, is divided into zones for each year group, incorporating dedicated teachers' offices and break areas as well as separate staircases leading to the circulation areas on the ground floor. In Boksen, the views are framed and the learning environments are less open than on the entrance floor, creating a more focused environment for study.

Finally, Rommet is the homeroom. Each one forms the nexus of a unit incorporating an adjacent breakout space, toilet and student lockers. Classrooms are arranged around the edges of the building, facing northeast and northwest to maximise solar gain and away from the playground to minimise distractions

The building has an L-shaped plan which encloses the south facing yard. It is characterised by the zigzagging form of its roof which creates a strong saw tooth silhouette referencing Strømmen’s industrial history, whilst also forming very spacious interiors with very high ceilings.

Our client, Skedsmo municipality, wanted a school for the future with a 100-year viability in terms of functionality, educational environments and long-term sustainability. The combination of spatial planning, material choices and energy strategies has resulted in an predicted annual energy use of 79 kWh/m2, equivalent to Norwegian Energy Class A.

High quality hard-wearing materials are specified throughout. The load bearing partition walls are made of cast concrete. Expansive floor to ceiling glazing combined with a light terrazzo floor creates a light and bright interior, which merges with the pale concrete of the yard creating a seamless transition from outside in. The school’s folded roof is covered in verdant Sedum to reduce rainwater run-off, and punctured with skylights to bring in natural light. The dark exterior consists of corrugated, prepatinated copper, a living material which ages beautifully. The reflections of morning light in the copper greet students and teachers each morning.

Architects: White arkitekter
Location: Strømmen, Skedsmo municipality, (20km northeast of Oslo)
Area: 7 200 m² BTA (450 students)
Year: 2014
Client: Skedsmo kommune
Building contractor: Betonmast AS
Strucural engineers: Norconsult AS
Landscape: White
Team: Thomas Landenberg (head architect), Karin Jakobsson, Karin Sjödin (head of landscape), Jeroen Matthijssen, Lars Zackrisson, Christian Wahlström, Lena Osvalds, Mikaela Åström Forsgren, Daniel Hultman.
Photographs: Ivan Brodey