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18.02.2022 - Ausgabe: 1/2022

Elbschule - Educational Centre for Hearing and Communication in Hamburg

By Linda Gebhard and Andreas Hunck (Landscape Architects Office Hunck+Lorenz Freiraumplanung Landschaftsarchitekten bdla, Hamburg, Germany)

© Hunck+Lorenz Freiraumplanung Landschaftsarchitekten und Asmus Henkel

When the International School Hamburg gave up its location in Hamburg-Bahrenfeld in 2010 to move into a new school building, a special opportunity arose for the further development of educational institutions for hearing-impaired children in Hamburg. The schools for the hearing-impaired and the deaf, which had previously existed at two different locations (Schultzweg and Hammer Straße), could be merged into one large joint educational location as a centre of excellence. 

In the course of the building renovation, during which special attention was paid to good room acoustics for the new user group, the outdoor facilities also had to be completely revised and designed regarding the specific requirements for children with hearing and other multiple impairments.

In close consultation with the school management, the company Hunck+Lorenz Freiraumplanung developed a design concept in which several special features had to be considered. 


Arrival - access aera and parking

Elbschule is attended by pupils from all over Hamburg, Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony, who are usually driven to and picked up from school by car, taxi or minibus due to their sometimes long journey and their special need for protection. Thus, at the beginning and end of the school day, there is a very high volume of traffic as well as the need for stopping space in front of the school building. 

Accordingly, the existing garden of the former caretaker's flat as well as a bicycle shed were demolished, and in their place a generous square with an access area was created, which allows sufficient space and stopping possibilities for arrival and collection traffic. Additional parking spaces for school staff were created in the southern area of the site on the area of the existing teachers' car park.


Everything in balance - The active break

The design of the play and movement areas was based on the special premise of creating activities that train the hearing-impaired's sense of balance. A special wish of the school management in this context was the creation of a spacious movement area, in which in particular the use of existing mobility devices such as "Kettcars", tricycles or similar is possible on a barrier-free basis.

For this purpose, a large active area was created in the area south of the gymnasium, with a hill formed in asphalt and embedded in the paving of various concrete block formats. This created an attractive courtyard for self-propelled vehicles, for which a separate shelter was installed in the schoolyard.

As a further active element, a table tennis table from the existing building was reinstalled in this courtyard area in the shade of a large chestnut tree.

The main schoolyard for active recess is located to the east of the school building and topographically about 75 cm higher and is accessible via ramps combined with concrete steps that merge with the existing slope.

Here, "upstairs" in the easternmost corner of the schoolyard, the children can let off steam on the EPDM-covered sports fields as well as on the "ear" - an area covered with colourful EPDM in the shape of a human ear - on which varied, interconnected climbing and hanging elements have been placed. A nest swing and a slide complete the range of play equipment in this area.


Places of communication - The quiet break

Some pupils, especially of the higher grades, prefer to spend their break in silence or in undisturbed conversation with others. As communication among hearing impaired persons is mainly visual (mouthing, signing), it is especially important to design places to stay and communicate in such a way that the pupils can look at each other, and at the same time in a way which allows them to sit together in a protected and intimate way so that not everyone in the schoolyard can "see" their conversation.  

Thus, as a matter of principle benches in a curved or round shape were chosen for seating in the schoolyard, which enable communication while sitting, even in smaller groups. A large wooden platform at the edge of the "Kettcar Courtyard" also fulfils this criterion and can as well be used as an open-air stage as an extension to the neighbouring music pavilion.

A central place for retreat and undisturbed communication has been created in the courtyard area to the north, which is almost completely enclosed by buildings. A wooden bench shaped like a cloverleaf around a maple tree offers seats in a quiet, sheltered atmosphere. Small staircases lead from here to the "green classrooms", which are terrace-like extensions of the classroom wing at this point.


Experience with (almost) all senses - nature and adventure

An adventure trail was created around the adjacent sports fields to train the senses: a curved grand path leads past seating and balancing elements made of natural materials such as stones and wood. Through "call columns" at the edge of the path, children with ("residual") hearing can communicate with each other in a playful way.

Together with the adjoining school garden, where gardening can be spread over three beds, at least a small-scale experience of nature is provided.


Review - An enriching experience

In the preliminary discussions with the headmasters of both schools, a new world was indeed opened to us, the world of the deaf and hearing-impaired. Until then, we had not really been aware of the limitations of not being able to hear and the hurdles that hearing-impaired people have to overcome. We knew that hearing and balance are directly connected, but had we ever thought about the fact that we hearing people also rely significantly on the sound of the tread when climbing stairs, and that if we had a "white noise" played on our ears, we would quite probably trip on the stairs? 

These and many other limitations of hearing-impaired people were communicated to us in conversation and led to close coordination in the planning phase with the school management. Together we developed and discarded ideas and were thus able to implement the optimum of quality in the very manageable space. 

The long planning period - caused by a steadily increasing measure due to substantial deficiencies in the building - enabled us to stay in a constant exchange with the school management and to divide the budget wisely. Thus, existing sheds were dismantled and the wood was reinstalled elsewhere, old pathway surfaces and existing substructures were combined with new ones, and in return, valuable playground equipment and EPDM surfaces were financed.

What remains unforgettable for us is how the pupils expressed their gratitude to all planners and participants at the opening ceremony: with a rap and dance performance on the sound-transmitting sprung floor of the auditorium, a broad smile and waving applause!


 Further information:

Project: Elbschule Educational Centre for Hearing and Communication

Planning: Landscape Architects Office Hunck+Lorenz Freiraumplanung Landschaftsarchitekten bdla Partnership

Client: Authority for Schools and Education, Free Hanseatic City of Hamburg

Architects Structural Engineering: Dohse + Stich

Address: Holmbrook 20, 22605 Hamburg-Bahrenfeld

Service phases processed: 1-8

Processing period: 2008-2014

Landscaping work: Company KLEMT Gala GmbH

Completion: 2014

Size: 7,500 m²

Gross construction costs: € 920,000 (incl. demolition costs)

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