Changing lifestyles and working environments make it that children spend increasingly more time at school. Accordingly, the school building and the relevant open space are not only learning but also important living spaces...
Five yards for Austria's Bundesgymnasium* Zehnergasse *(Bundesgymnasium = public grammar school)
By Gabu Heindl (GABU Heindl Architecture)
Schoolyards serve as sports and leisure centre to the benefit of the entire district. The extension of Bundesgymnasium Zehnergasse in Wiener Neustadt, a project carried through by GABU Heindl Architecture - A school in motion
In which way have schools changed in recent decades? How have their interiors and their open spaces changed? What kind of role do sports and physical exercise play? All these questions were behind the creative planning process for the extension of Bundesgymnasium Zehnergasse in Wiener Neustadt.
Two new building units - housing both the school and a sports section – have recently been added to the historical school building erected between 1962 and 1964 by architects Steinfelder/Jaksch. However, the result are not just some additional school spaces of the usual type, but areas for learning and also, at the same time, recreation, sports and exercise. The five newly created outdoor areas are designed as yards. Regarding the design, great emphasis was put on diversity. So the yards vary in size, landscape design and noise level. The respective thematic architecture has been adapted to the school's focus on sports. And last but not least it was taken into account that these yards should also serve as a cultural and sports centre for the entire neighbourhood.
Sometimes, a school can also turn into a community centre. The new forecourt marked by its barrier-free accessibility serves as entrance to the evening school. The centrally located library near the reading yard may open its doors for other schools of this area or even to the entire district. The southern side of the new school wing is ideally suited for open-air events thanks to its deep balcony and terrace. This applies also to the open air sports facilities, climbing and outdoor sports opportunities in the Pergola Yard and the terrace near the sports yard, which can also be used as a spectators stand. The development of this new sports area was co-financed by the Austrian Federal Government and the federal states. Because of this public funding, the collective use of the sports fields by two schools does now have a more official character. So far, the principals of both the Bundesgymnasium and the neighbouring local vocational school had informally offered their sports areas to each other for mutual use, in the true sense of good neighbourhood.
Learning in the shade, sitting in the sun and running around the school buildings.
The special architecture supports the teaching and learning concept of the school: that is to say, doing as much physical exercise as possible, and above all, not only in but also beyond the sports lessons. The students themselves lend a hand whenever their classrooms have to be re-arranged.
The rooms and spaces are also freely available for temporary use. Regardless of whether the students are sitting or resting, they can learn everywhere. Therefore, in the reading yard wooden decks are offered both in the sun and in the shade. There are learning islands in the lounge and the recreation zones and also on the sun deck, which provides both tranquil and also communication zones. It offers space for afternoon sessions or waiting areas for non-local commuting students. The roof terrace on the second floor is an "open-air-space", which may be used as an outdoor teaching or studying area. In front of every school cluster, there are spacious front grounds to the south creating a seamless transition from interior to exterior spaces, which, due to their recessed facades, balconies and covered terraces allow learning both in and outside.
The basic design idea of the northern facade is also reflected by the interplay between indoors and outdoors. In its class rooms, the far-outward-protruding window niches create additional and very special inside spaces.
The school's extension design was developed on the basis of an intensive exchange between those who know the place best, i.e. the approximately 1,000 students and 100 teachers. Some ideas developed in participative workshops or coming from studies on new school concepts could be integrated in the project implementation. Still, the project could only be successful because of the high commitment of interested users, good project teams and, above all, the open-minded and committed building owners.
Everything is in motion
The yards are as important as the different building units. The forecourt which is accessible to everybody has kind of hinge function towards the city. Next to the yards lies the much more private but also public front garden. Apart from its function as a schoolyard, the "reading court" offers a second key component for outdoor breaks. It is located next to the new library with several wooden terraces, lawn areas and trees, and thus a very nice place for contemplative moments. The reading court may, however, also serve as a stage for outdoor school events or events organised by people from the neighbourhood. The hilly landscape in the afternoon court was created by reusing the excavation soil from the construction site of the new buildings. In this way, a hilly, nearly maintenance-free grass landscape was created with the help of relatively simple means. This yard is very popular for endurance training.
The Pergola Yard is the heart of the new sports area. It is situated in the centre of the sports facilities and forms a kind of outdoor sports area. The pergola has two levels and does not only provide shade: Provided with eyelets suitable for safety systems it also serves as an outdoor climbing court. In addition, it is a popular football pitch.
A high rope in the Pergola Yard
The Pergola Yard, an "outdoor sports area", is the core of the new outdoor leisure facilities. The ground is covered with a robust plastic coating thus forming a smooth and harmonious transition between the yard and the adjacent grass area. The hard court is surrounded by a pergola. The sun protection panels, which are firmly integrated into the steel frames, provide shade for the sports field. But the pergola is not only a decorative element or shade provider: as already mentioned, with its large number of safety eyelets, it also offers potential for challenging climbing routes and balance training of different kinds. Close to the ground, there is a firmly-installed slack line for both sports lessons and break time. For those students of Bundesgymnasium Zehnergasse's sports department who do not suffer from vertigo, a high rope has been fixed to the pergola at a lofty height. Due to the safety eyelets firmly integrated in the frame of the pergola, a rope protection can easily be installed from above. The Pergola Yard is permanently open to both the school's students and the non-school sports clubs which use the sports halls and sports field.
From the sports hall straight to the green field
In addition to the two existing gyms, a new (third) hall was built next to the already mentioned sports field situated between the two schools. This hall does not only offer more space for sports lessons, but also for many other sporting activities which both of the two schools may arrange outside regular school hours.
The long generously-glazed southwest facade creates a link between the hall and the green-field site. It does not only offer a fantastic view to the grass area, but is at the same time a direct exit from the hall. Thus, in combination with the windows in the northeast, the sports hall is provided with sufficient light over the day. There is also a spectator’s area which is separated from the playing field, but from which the roofed terrace and the outdoor sports facilities are directly accessible from the hall. Special floor covering around the sports hall protects sports shoes from getting dirty when people change from outside to the inside. The terrace in front of the sports hall also serves as spectators stand for the sports field. Its roofing protects from sun blinding and overheating in the gym.
Everybody is moving
In addition to the existing halls, there are also non-standardised sports areas for those sports and movement activities which cannot be practised in standard halls. Hence, two movement areas without any particular or standardised character are offered in addition to the standard halls. The freely accessible area on the upper level is mainly used for dance and gymnastics, but is also suited for presentations or exhibitions. And last but not least it may also be an ideal refuge due to its decentralised and quiet location. Here, the students themselves can be their own coaches and teachers.
From here, there is direct access to the sports teachers' rooms, which - apart from the usual changing and sanitary rooms - are also provided with a small area for performance diagnosis. The second equally designed area on the ground floor has been equipped with strength-training devices, sponsored by private donors and is freely available to students, teachers and parents on weekdays until 10 p.m. Magister Dr. Schwarz, the principal himself, is a certified sports teacher and was intensively involved in the planning process. He attaches great importance to such non-standardised sports and movement areas.
Photos: GABU Heindl Architecture; Photographer: Lisa Rastl