SET Architects' Climbing-Frame Inspired Sassa School Prioritizes Adaptability

SET Architects as Architects

Ten years after a destructive earthquake rocked Italy's central Abruzzo region, many students still attend class in temporary modules similar to containers. Named winners of an international competition, SET Architects’ design for the new “Sassa School Complex” proposes reconstructing a place for students and the community to learn, gather, and grow. Inspired by the modularity and essential nature of climbing frame play structures, the architects describe the design as a metaphor for “freedom and social aggregation as a fundamental value for dynamic and innovative teaching.”

Located in the town of Sassa, near L’Aquila (the town most affected by the 2009 earthquake), the project is situated strategically to be accessible from many surrounding communities affected by the earthquake. SET Architects’ design also utilizes a sustainable, flexible, and seismic-resistant XLam wood panel structure in the case of any future earthquakes in the area. The simple geometries and natural materials blend the building into its surrounding landscape, creating a continuous conversation between indoor and outdoor spaces and between learning and social spaces.

Designed for flexibility and adaptability, the complex integrates a mixture of public and private spaces of different sizes throughout. Through the use of modular furniture, movable walls, and other transformative elements, students and community members can use these spaces to meet the needs of any activity. In learning spaces, students are encouraged to develop autonomy and creativity by becoming actively involved in the space and appropriating it for themselves and their needs.

The design considers sustainability and the health and well-being of the users in its material choices and in its careful layout and orientation of buildings on the site. Conceived as a series of independent buildings connected by a self-supporting porch, SET Architects’ design could be constructed in multiple phases for ease of implementation.

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