Notski is the winning competition entry for a 4660m2 upper-secondary school in Heinola by Lahdelma & Mahlamäki Architects. Aside from its core focus of learning the school also is to become a social hub for the community – housing civic activities, youth culture and community sports. Flexible learning and activity spaces pivot outwards from a core social space that links all the programmes together. The classrooms themselves, designed with pedagogic experts, are optimised to cater for the different learning situations that the students would find themselves in throughout their school career.
Notski sits in the heart of Heinola, a secluded Finnish town of around 20,000 inhabitants, surrounded by a patchwork of islands, lakes and forests that make up the luscious Nordic landscape. Within this sinuous natural environment, the centre of Heinola has developed a linear grid structure. Lahdelma & Mahlamäki’s school breaks this orthogonal sequence bringing the essence of the natural landscape back into the town. The subtle gestures of courtyards and nature that surround the school blend its boundaries into those of the adjacent Maaherra Park. This extra outdoor space provides students with sports pitches, green space and an amphitheatre that extends their social and learning areas into the outdoors.
Whilst primarily being a home for students, Notski belongs to all age-groups and sections of the population. The building bases its spatial arrangement on balancing these two sets of users. Ground floor functions such as the auditorium, main space and sports hall were all designed to accommodate both students and members of the public and aim to be visually and physically open to the public. The building works around the clock, open for classes during school hours, but also functioning during evenings and weekends for civic activities.
The façade of the building reflects the duality of the public and private levels of the school. Large timber beams frame double-storey windows which connect the inside and outside spaces. Whereas on the private, student top floor, a more opaque material will wrap around the façade. This layer aims to let in the natural light whilst providing a more sheltered environment for focused learning. The contrast between the upper and lower façade creates a new image for the town, but at the same time shows itself as a gentle, elegant and sophisticated building.
The fixed learning spaces within the angled plan keep a clear structure which allows for the endless adaptation of the rooms. Adjustable walls allow classrooms to be opened up to each other, to combine classes or allow for a wider range of activities to take place. Each classroom layout also varies from the next. Both group-focussed seating arrangements as well as more traditional classrooms provide unique learning environments which can cater specifically for individual activities and ensure a dynamic school environment.
The name Notski comes from the Finnish slang for campfire, which is the motif behind the school’s layout. The social, lively, centre of the building is where all the other functions are seated around. Like a campfire the school wants to bring together members of the community around a hive of activity.
It is envisaged that construction will begin in spring 2019 with the school to open in the beginning of 2021.
Lahdelma & Mahlamäki Architects have extensive experience in designing schools that follow and develop progressive Finnish pedagogic ideals. Kastelli School and Community Centre in Oulu integrates the whole age spectrum of students, from younger years to adult education. It also acts as a community hub for the area, providing sports facilities and a youth centre. The office is also currently constructing a new campus for the Metropolia University in Helsinki. The project combines social and educational interaction with highly specialised facilities such as a concrete manufacturing and research centre.