Stage C: Design Workshop Denmark September 2014

This ‘blog’ runs in chronological order. Chunked into days, all themes are mentioned on each day. Discussions on issues discussed on Day 1 continue on subsequent days.

Day 1: Tuesday 2nd September


After arriving in Copenhagen at 8:00am we made our way straight to the offices of SHL to start work.

The first session was very much about sharing the slightly different design developments that had taken place separately with TCA in HK and SHL in DK. Both teams had begun to work out different approaches and from the start on this first day it was important that both practices understood each others thinking.

We also looked at the more radical new ideas that Billy had developed over the summer for the whole campus design. We all agreed that the best way to utilize the outcomes would be to consider drawing in and combining some elements from these ‘fresh’ ideas and to use them to extend the central idea. We agreed that to lose sight of all the work and co-creation that has led us to this point by, in effect, starting again would not be productive. Furthermore it might have the effect of disengaging the community stakeholder groups who had put so much time already inputting to the process and influencing the developing idea.

Classrooms or no classrooms


There was real engagement around the issue of what the the different learning spaces will actually be like. We discussed that whilst all the common communal areas adhere to the educational brief in terms of visibility, permeability and interconnectedness, we are still demanding boxes and are largely constrained by the current timetable model and the way we currently group students. If we stand by the educational brief and extend it to drive the design of the actual spaces for teaching and learning, as well as the whole campus design, we come across a clash. If we resort to traditional classrooms with doors then we depart from the educational brief. Today we really began to explore ways that the “classrooms” and “breakout” spaces interact. We identified the need to consider a so-called, buffer zone between these separate spaces. A kind of intermediate space that was neither classroom nor corridor. We also contemplated the idea of ‘no doors’; of different learning areas interpenetrating with each other and common areas.

We began to think of ways of interconnecting learning spaces without resort to operable walls. At least we agreed that we need to be fully aware of the way the process of determining the schedule of accommodation may impede us from truly running with our vision. There is a friction between needing to run the current timetable numbers to determine need and make the necessary government submissions and the, arguably greater, need to ensure future-proofing and to try and imagine what teaching and learning and a future timetable may be like.

We quickly became committed to the idea of exploring further the potential for having a more innovative approach to configuring learning environments that would go beyond the current conventions.

The Building Meets the Hill

Another parallel discussion was about how the building will abut the hill to the south west. Of course we want to capitalize on the greenery and views off site onto the same. One issue is that the incline of the hill may seem oppressive to the building. The light penetration may be an issue. The building itself has to be formed in order to take all these considerations into account. Various ideas about what spaces should front onto the hillside. An emerging idea this summer is that the library should be at the back of the site and open up to reading terraces on the hill.

Ingress / Egress 

Another issue that was open for debate was the coach drop off and parking area. At present the TCA idea may involve large excavation of a section of hillside on the Borrett Road side. There was discussion about moving the opening up the road a bit to avoid to much expensive and time consuming ground works. This, however, would create a safety issue as the entrance point to the undercroft would be too near to the curve at the top of Borrett Road.

The Approach

Another issue discussed was the south entrance to the school. The current lease says that adequate parking and playground area needs to be provided and that such spaces can not be overhung by or have any structure above them. We need to work within the confines of the current lease arrangements because to apply for any modifications could result in the addition of many more unwanted and obstructive clauses. We feel that the current car parking very much takes away from the entrance being inviting and, if we keep the same arrangements, would preclude us from making the most of the approach to the schools and the opportunity for excellent on-site views. Furthermore to free up the space outside and  adjacent to the entrance on the south east side would enable us to use it for seating and a play area.

We discussed the idea of combining coach drop-off with car parking, but felt that this was not ideal, would compromise safety of students and frustrate staff and visitors who may need to arrive around the same time as the buses. We began to explore the idea of moving the car parking spaces further towards the west/south-west away from the buildings threshold. This solution would provide clear views onto the cantilevered facade and provide another vehicle-free access to the school site

Of course we would still need to provide emergency vehicle access and this would mean providing a 26metre turning radius.

The South Facade and the drainage reserve

Another issue that affects the way we proceed with the south facade and its cantilevered layers is the regulations concerning how we build above the drainage reserve. We need to leave at least 5.1 metres clearance above the reserve so as to allow for plant access and maintenance. It may be that we have to consider the use of pillars to support this section of the school building. The importance of having a clear and accurate understanding of how the reserve sits in 3D will help us to accomplish the best solution.

The Atrium

On day 1 we also began to discuss the atrium and all its attendant challenges. Starting questions we addressed were …

  • What will the experience of using the atrium and moving into it and out from it feel like? What do we want it to be?
  • In order to justify the floor area how will we zone it or define its function(s)?
  • How will we manage the need for it to be, at once, conceived as one continuous communal space and also as a multi-functional space with various specific zones at times?
  • How will we define the boundary between atrium and non-atrium on every level so that we allow for vertical sight-lines between levels and across to opposite spaces?
  • What role can architectural furniture play in facilitating the definition of different functional areas in the atrium?
  • The other, and arguably most testing, question we considered was that of whether, and to what extent do, we regulate the climate of the atrium. If we do not provide some form of control of this issue then we may end with a huge space that can not be comfortably used throughout the academic year. Yet if we seal the space and provide air conditioning this will become a very expensive space to maintain in terms of energy bills and also will break the tradition of ISland School being an open and outside campus. Clearly we will need to come back to this issue many times before we resolve it.

The Black Diamond: The Royal Library, Copenhagen

See the building featured on the SHL website

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On the way back to the hotel we took a detour to visit SHL’s Black Diamond building which houses the Danish Royal Library. This experience helped further our discussion of the new school’s atrium. The building itself is beautiful and has similarities to our project in the way the atria defines a line from the centre of the city out through to the harbour.

Day 2: Wednesday 3rd September

An early start saw us catch the 7:50am train to Aarhus to meet with Bjarne Hammer at the main SHL office. He met us at the station after a very productive discussion en route.

On the journey we revisited all the issues that we had considered the day before, and gave particular thought to the challenges of the atrium and configuring the more dedicated teaching and learning spaces in a more open and permeable way.

First stop was a visit to VIA University College Campus. After approaching what looked like a very ordinary building, it was stunning to move through its threshold into the central atrium.

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A singularly beautiful building, what we learnt was just how you can articulate an atrium space to leverage social interaction and varied views as you walk around the campus. Over-hanging terraces of different sizes enable users to communicate and have sight-lines between the different levels and across the space. Flooded with daylight, the main space is a very attractive place to be. The various stair ways and the overall circulation system allows for a multitude of different through routes as you navigate around the building. In many ways this design exemplifies many aspects of our educational brief. Having said that the atrium is completely sealed.

Bjarne and a New Typology of Spaces

IMG_4541On arrival at the SHL office Bjarne took some time to talk about a recent case study. A school that had been recently designed and conceived as a paperless environment  had also developed a new typology of space to try and break away from the notion of repeated generic classrooms.

They defined the following types of spaces:

  • Dialogue boxes – these spaces are architecturally different – they take the user into an unexpected, stimulating and novel environment. Designed to inspire creative dialogue they are unusual in many ways;
  • Team Rooms – spaces specifically designed for collaborative work;
  • Intro Rooms – these spaces are dedicated to briefings and teacher led learning;
  • Q Rooms – these rooms are designated for quiet individual study;
  • Workshops – like team rooms these spaces support more practical and interactive learning;
  • Specialist Rooms – these rooms are typified by high subject specialism and dedicated resources and equipment. An obvious example is a Science lab.

Unfortunately time did not allow for an in-depth exploration of what these rooms actual have in them. We did not have access to any plans or images of the various spaces. The idea that each subject area should have some spaces designed to support a range of learning modes that align with our skills framework emerged strongly today.

Another important outcome from the long workshop with Bjarne was that we will work up a number of alternative ways of configuring learning spaces with varying levels of openness and permeability to frame further workshops with curriculum leaders and the steering group. I have also decided that a case study of VIA in relation to our educational brief may help with the design decision process going forward.

We continued to discuss the idea of the atrium. We considered the idea of climate controlling the two minor atria in the ‘C’ shapes. The worry with this is a. It would mean having to have a ‘seal’ or boundary between these and the main ‘heart’ atrium and b. It would disincentivize the use of the main space. The key development in the way we began to think was we began to focus on human experience whilst using the atria.

As well as this we began to formulate a set of criteria to drive the development of the atria design. We acknowledged what we had learned from Via University College. The need for supporting high level social interaction and learning through supporting inter-level visibility. The need to balance the purity of having with ‘clean’ flowing lines with a more varied built space that would afford a a range of diverse visual experiences as you move around.

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We had some detailed discussion around the idea of using a combination of ground source cooling, spot cooling, solar powered fans and shading to keep temperatures down in the atrium. We agreed that a priority is to make the ‘heart’ block 5 atrium as useful and as comfortable in use as possible. It will also be important to be able to argue this as it will take up a lot of the ground floor area.

An idea that Bjarne discussed that had interest for us was to defer final judgements about how specific internal learning spaces are configured until much later in the process. He told us of a project where they had done this. This approach would allow for the development of different approaches to teaching, learning and timetabling over the time leading up to occupancy. It would also ensure that the building would be more flexible over its in use life-cycle.

We agreed that this approach is definitely worth keeping in mind.


DOKK1 building by SHL in Aarhus

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Towards the end of Day 2 we enjoyed a tour of the DOKK1 building by SHL. Thanks to Klaus Petersen the architect Project Director. We paid particular attention to the ‘media ramp’, a huge gradually inclined slope with stairs that connects two of the floor plates. Like the Black Diamond, DOKK1 is really site aware and seeks to connect a line between too wooded areas along the coast with the old creek that empties into the harbour.

Day 3: Thursday 4th September

The Path



It was on this day that we started to develop a new element within the design. Rather than having the flat atrium (150m) as the datum for the building, we started to explore the idea of developing the Borrett Road entrance and the stairs it led to into much more defining feature of the campus building.

You can see from these two early sketches that “The Path” will join the Borrett Road (East) entrance right through and up to the hillside.

It is important to note that this feature will not seek to be the new block 5 all though in many ways it will be the heart of the school. There will be two flat atria to the left and right of ‘The Path’ one of which will be equal in size to the existing Block 5 playground and will be able to host all the activities that we currently hold there on the current site.

Features and Functions of “The Path”

  • ‘The Path’ will be 14-15 metre wide ‘boulevard’ that extends up through the whole site.
  • It will provide a gradual and open access to all four of the lower levels of the campus.
  • Its design will very much reference the many pedestrian alleyways that run up the hill north to south in Central, SoHo and Sheung Wan.
  • It will be a very real connection from the entrance on Borrett Road right up though to the green hillside at the ‘back’ of the site.
  • Greenery will extend down through it from the hillside.
  • Water will collect from the hillside, particularly when it rains, and will feed water features the length of ‘The Path’.
  • It will be flooded with daylight and be a semi-open space.
  • It will emulate the architectural features of a city street, with side roads, crossings and terraces and balconies overlooking it.
  • The path will signify personal development and learning.
  • As you walk up ‘The Path’ you will have clear sight of the library to the left and the pool to the right. This artery or heart element will feed and celebrate both the ‘head’ and the ‘hand’.
  • ‘The Path’ will continue up and out to the south west up through the odd ‘finger’ of the site, to a ‘pagoda’ type structure that will be a reflection space.
  • Its steps will provide assembly space for various size groups up to year, house and whole school events.
  • It will be designed into zones that will provide a range of flat spaces that encourage users to linger in smaller groups.
  • The length of The Path will support a range of different activities and modes of learning.
  • The overall incline of ‘The Path’ will continue the line of the hillside and therefore fit the campus into its site.
  • The steps and different level will echo the recursive shape of the cantilevered terraces elsewhere on the site.

Ørestad Gymnasium, Copenhagen

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At the end of Day 3 René took us out to the newly developed Ørestad region of Copenhagen to visit the Ørestad Gymnasium. The Danish government drove the ideology behind the design in 2005. The idea was to support the behaviours and learning styles of high school students by moving away from the traditional notion of classrooms. Even several of the Science labs are in common areas that are totally permeable to circulation space. Other labs are more traditional. The thing that characterises the whole campus is its openness. Zones are numbered (one imagines to aid timetabling). Blocks of circular plywood lockers enclose and define smaller places and the dual signature elements are the impressive central spiral staircase and the elevated learning areas with large beanbags.

The initial effect as we walked in was a huge wow, but as the tour progressed we all agreed that the design vision did not align with ours and we felt that there was a lack of human scale spaces and areas that would provide the intimacy and levels of privacy for the less ‘outgoing’ members of our community. Unfortunately the school was not in session and I was unable to talk to any teachers. The articles below give more of an insight into the architectural vision and how it aimed to support the school pedagogical values.

Day 4: Friday 5th September

The idea of ‘The Path’ develops and informs the dialogue about major adjancies.

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This day saw us spend more time exploring the vision for The Path and trialling different approaches and features. There was growing excitemtn of about this. We see it as the element that will really tie the whole campus together; it will be the datum and reference point for users, whernever they are in the school. We started to consolidate our proposals for the path and to adjust adjacencies to be more sympathetic to it. We also began to imagine how people would move up, out and into it. To try to understand how it would relate to the ‘plazas’.

The other question concerns where we will have whole school assemblies. We are exploring the idea of holding these in the path (of course climate control is an issue) and considering the option of more of a ‘greek theatre’ towards the back end of The Path. The audience seating could be extended to include one of the bridge structures that could double as a circulation space as well as having drop down seating steps that would afford views back down the path and to the focus of the assembly.

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The gallery above shows reference shots of various sloping alleys in Central, Sheung Wan and Soho. Pottinger St, Ladder St, Shing Wong St , Peel St and Pound Lane etc.

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Also elements of The Path could refer to China’s Hani Rice Terraces (a world heritage site)

There was talk of large ‘reading terraces’ overlooking Borrett Road and an acknowledgement that the north and north-west faces terraces will afford quite large spaces adjoining the learning spaces on that side and also provide significant outdoor spaces for social time with great views down to Central and beyond.

Screen Shot 2014-09-08 at 8.59.31 PM

The draft sketch above shows many features of the emerging design and particularly focuses on ‘The Path’ and how it interconnects with adjacent spaces. The brown floor plate at 15m shows where the central path intersects with the larger ‘plaza’ spaces. It will be  important for us to test the way the 150m platform interrelates with ‘The Path’. If the floor plate is too extensive it may affect the amount of sunlight that penetrates down to the path and may impeded through site views from the lower levels up to the hillside.

The black box protrudes over the coach drop-off area and it is envisaged that this will have distinct architectural identity and will appear to float above the undercroft. The black box (according to this draft design) will open out onto the path at a lower level and in doing so will offer a large reception area and assembly point during performances.

To the left of the start of ‘The Path’ will be the library that will wrap around the south east corner of the building. It will be fully glazed and therefore be highly visible to people passing the school and to those visitors who embark on the journey up the path. The library will extend over the path’s entrance, providing a more ‘human scale’ experience on entry. This will provide a contrasting experience to that which will be had as you pass under this feature and into the larger void of the path proper. This ‘bridge’ may also support a large open reading terrace above.

Southern Approach IS

By moving the staff and visitor car parking facility further around to the south west at the current entrance to the site we free up the existing car parking space to be an attractive outdoor area or front garden for the school. As visitors walk up around to this entrance they will be able to look at the cantilevered facade of the block, into the library and will view the inclined open space where students and visitors alike can sit and socialise.

Where the path intersects at right angles with the other south entrance will be a focal place for the whole campus. We have discussed the idea of having a floating Island – a small elevated terrace that symbolises an Island. The function of this space has yet to be determined.

The side of the campus that is set against the hillside is in danger of becoming the ‘back’ of the site. We have begun to generate ideas that will stop this being the case. Some building functions may be ‘buried’ in the hillside and another communcal outside space that delineates that edge of the site in a more user friendly way. Early days for this idea yet. We have also discussed maintaining a site entrance around the existing zoo steps area to provide occasional and emergency escape route.

A Learning Typology for the new IS

Ørestad Gymnasium really has extending our thinking about the configuration of spaces for teaching and learning. Today we began to position our vision with regard to the open approach of the Ørestad designers and to put this together with reflections on Bjarne’s typology of spaces.

What emerged was the following classification. We hope that this typography will help us to plan each faculty area and how they interlock with house, common and circulation spaces.

Whilst the discussion of three types of spaces may infer that they are completely distinct, it should be noted that each ‘zone’ will be blended as far as is possible. It should also be noted that the traditional ‘digital’ process of timetabling one teacher/group per space must be open to change. It will still be possible to timetable in the time honoured way, but it is hoped that classes will use any combination of the zoned spaces in the course of a learning session.

It should also be noted that, if possible each of the zones should also support all modes of learning. It is not a mandate that all group work takes place in zone B for instance.

A note about occupancy rates. At present if the room next door is vacant a teacher can allow students to go out the door and into the room adjacent to get on with their tasks. Alternatively, at times, students work outside in corridors and in stair wells. With the new typology we will be able to make better use of adjoining spaces. During lessons students can utilize a range of spaces A through to C. Engagement spaces can also be used for processing. Only at tight fit times when 6-7 classes come through a faculty will there be less opportunity for ‘breakout’. In turn this will provide movement to and from different learning environments within one lesson, thereby providing a variety of experiences for students and, in turn, even higher engagement rates.

Also it is envisaged that movement rates decrease incrementally as you travel through from Community Space through to Engagement Space. Every house/faculty learning area will gradate though from a central Community Space that adjoins and/or looks over The Path or one of the Plazas or Guāngchāng through, processing spaces to engagement spaces towards the shell of the campus. In the same way the more generic and collaborative spaces like the Integrated Learning Studios will be situated towards the centre and the lower floors of the building complex and gradate vertically to more dedicated subject specialist rooms towards the higher levels.

A zones: Engagement Space

These spaces will be the closet to the traditional notion of the ‘classroom’. positioned towards the facade of shell of the building, they will be for engagement activities and briefings. They will involve more teacher led activities and whole class work. They will support lecture style learning and yet will also have high a degree of flexibility through the judicious choice of a range of furniture.

Whilst it will be possible to separate these rooms from the Processing Spaces, it will also be possible (and desirable) that they interpenetrate together. Whilst the means by which we achieve this is not defined as yet, it is probable that the ‘walls’ will be easily moveable. Rather like the ones I saw at St Pauls Way Trust School in East London.

B zones: Processing Space

As the name suggests these spaces will be for students to get on with their learning. Students will be researching, analysing, questioning, creating and collaborating in these spaces. The environment will support both individual and group work. There may be smaller acoustically sealed project rooms. More than in the engagement spaces, there will be high levels of porosity between the spaces in Zone B. Any separateness will be achieved through architectural furniture and intermediate non-load bearing walls.

The mode of teaching in these spaces will predominantly one of coaching both at individual and small group level.

C zones: Community Space

These spaces are combined learning/house areas. Designed to support more informal learning and social interaction. They will have larger levels of movement and will directly link with main circulation routes. For the most part they will combine terraces which look over and across the bigger voids – that is they will connect very much with the larger whole school communal spaces. Typically these spaces will be about socialising and meeting more informally. Used extensively during tutor periods, they will very much be ‘house’ areas and will have comfortable seating, a range of different sized zones to support a variety of group sizes. It is possible that architectural furniture that incorporates lockers are sited within C zones.

Further questions ….

  • Would it be worth trying to map the way forward on this issue by referencing these spaces to our skills framework;
  • We have already discussed the notion that circulation systems will be dispersed within faculty spaces. How will this actually work?
  • How do we sell the benefits of this model to those that still want a sealed box for their teaching?
  • How do we support both collaborative and quiet individual learning within the one ‘zone?;

See the ‘visual’ minutes from the round up meeting with Bjarne below.

Day 5: Saturday 6th September

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Stakeholder Engagement and Co-creation Process Going Forward

  • SLT briefing Tuesday 16th September 3:30pm.
  • Steering Group Meeting Wednesday 17th September.
    • Presentation on Design Developments and discussion.
    • Planning Co-creation Process until week 2 of October.
    • Planning sign-off milestones for the next year.
  • Staff Presentation on Design Developments and discussion – pending steering group decision –  3:30pm Tuesday 23rd September
  • Staff Open Co-creation Workshop – pending steering group decision – date TBA.

20140923 Stage C teacher meeting

One thought on “Stage C: Design Workshop Denmark September 2014

  1. I like the path idea. It seems to emphasize the slope, so that as you walk through the school you would always feel that you were in a building on a slope. The key is still cooling it isn’t it? Is it thought possible that it would take a whole school assembly, or is it now too long and thin? Will there be wider and narrower bits? Would the assembly area be at the junction of a path and a playground piece do that seating can go in two directions? I am thinking church nave style! Billy was looking at more interesting uses of the walkways across the atrium. Could one of these be racked in some way so that it becomes a balcony suspended in the air? Is there space for a greek theatre at the top end of the path?

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