On the site of a former technical school in Rotterdam Lombardijen a new school for children with learning disabilities has been built. Lombardijen is a typical post-war neighbourhood consisting of a repetitive mix of low-rise and high-rise blocks of flats. The neighbourhood is urgently in need of technical, spatial and social transformation. This especially applies to the public space; as in many neighbourhoods of the 1960s the area between the building blocks is rather large and unarticulated, poorly maintained and hardly used. The problem is partly caused by the existing architecture that fails to establish a mutual relationship between indoor and outdoor space. The project for the new school attempts to rethink this relationship while engaging with the existing context.
The project consists of two loosely connected volumes, a two storey compact building block, which is the actual school building, and a double sports hall. Both volumes are placed in the far corners of the generously dimensioned plot. The buildings are complemented by two semi-enclosed outdoor spaces. Facing the Spinozaweg there is an open, paved and rather urban square that will be used as playground. On the other side there will be a large, intensively planted, enclosed garden. This garden offers space for recreation and play and serves as an outdoor ‘classroom’ for the subject ‘green’ that will be part of the curriculum in the new school. The design of the façades, entrances and the plinth supports the desired close relationship between inside and outside.
The curriculum focuses on three main subjects: living, working and leisure. These subjects are taught in specific classrooms, such as the living room, the kitchen and the art studio. These classrooms are situated on the ground floor facing the street and establish, quite literally, the connection between the school and the outside world. The rest of the school, with all regular classrooms facing the garden, has a more private character. Specific attention has been paid to the design of the spacious circulation area in the centre of the building. Generous roof lights and voids allow for daylight to reach the ground floor, while respecting the need of many of the pupils for a calm environment avoiding stimuli such as noise, too vivid colours and forms.
Within the budgetary limits of public school buildings we designed a sustainable structure with flexible and timeless plans and a low energy installation; in the future the school can easily be adjusted to the needs of other types of education. The sports hall combines a regular steel structure with an expressive timber roof and appears as a completely timber-lined, roof-lit space. The plinth around the building has been clad with ceramic tiles in different black and white patterns made by the remarkably artistic pupils.