Elementary School, Kindergarden and Branch Library 

The township of S. Andrea is a typical South Tyrolean hillside settlement located at an altitude of 1,000m on the slopes of the Isarco Valley and is part of a larger constellation of interconnected communities that dot the steep hillsides overlooking Bressanone.  Like many of these towns, S. Andrea’s original compact morphology has remained unchanged but is now surrounded by a series of dispersed residential settlements.  The project is inserted within this delicate and disparate context, serving as an important civic anchor between the church and the fireman’s hall.

Sited on the grounds of the town’s former school, the project incorporates part of the existing structure within its walls to propose an entirely new building that houses a kindergarten, an elementary school, a branch library, and a large gymnasium that also serves as a much loved multipurpose hall.  The four, interdependent programs are combined to economize means and maximize the potential for community engagement. 

Social events, festivals, local choral and theatre associations, the book club and many more events, people and initiatives are galvanized together in a building so much more than simply a school.  Articulated in section to afford multiple access points, the building grounds itself in the roots and traditions of S. Andrea to create a series of outdoor playgrounds and public squares able to give new form to a place of learning and culture.

The wide-angled, “L” shaped plan of the school delineates two “ground” levels, each with an open, public space in correspondence with the horizontal layering of the constituent programs.  

The upper level piazza is accessed by a large ramp from the main road and constitutes the entry area and school yard to the 15-classroom elementary school and town library; the lower plaza is the public entry to the gym and multipurpose hall whose glass façade establishes a strong inside-outside visual connection.  The lower level entrances to the kindergarten and the multipurpose hall via the double-height atrium are positioned in continuity with an existing pedestrian pathway that connects the northern and southern ends of the town.

In dialogue with traditional building techniques, the school is articulated into two parts whereby a predominantly wooden structure rests atop a solid podium that navigates the change in grade.  The wooden façade is a slatted construction punctuated by a series of large, corniced windows.  To the west where the classrooms are located, the wooden screen is thick and the windows deeply inset; to the east, the vertical elements are tautly drawn out across the elevation and are cropped off along the large wooden bench which skirts the perimeter of the building.  The bench transforms the building façade into urban furniture, providing a place to sit and observe the goings-on of the playground.

School interiors are subject of much debate, but the one thing that everyone can agree upon is that they need to be robust.  Indeed the design of the interiors employs a palette of durable materials able to absorb daily wear and tear and at the same time seeks out an animated frame within which various didactic scenarios can take place.  Changes in materials, colours and textures accompany the inhabitants of the school in protest of the anonymity of school interiors and the generic one size fits all furnishings frequently found in schools.

Glass partitions, sliding doors, and heterogeneous spaces are part of a kit of design tools used to favor interaction and to accommodate different teaching and learning practices.  As such the interiors are bound to both the spatial tectonics driven by the architecture and the pedagogical aspects embedded within the school.  In-between spaces—be it the spaces between the classrooms and the circulation areas or the places between the common zones and those more circumscribed—are each celebrated as transitional moments able to facilitate wayfinding and social exchange.

The use of wood throughout the project connect the various functions with a tactile, and warm dimension.  In the gym and multipurpose hall the walls are clad with an acoustic wooden finish, or in the kindergarten, the changing area is a long space animated by a wooden, sound absorbing wall that has been carved out with a zig-zagging, colorful linoleum lining that delineates different sections of the children’s changing area.  A roughly textured treatment of the ceilings confers a material presence to the spaces, while other areas are more specifically treated with acoustic panels to temper the frequently reported noise issues found in schools today.

The design of the interiors inserts elements useful to the personalization of the spaces, inscribing the walls with various systems of display for sharing work and didactic materials.