Insula College
Leerpark On the south-eastern edge of Dordrecht, a city south of Rotterdam, lies a new, extraordinary district with a radical mingling of functions. This so-called ‘Leerpark’ (Education Park) is organized around a green central boulevard flanked by all the important educational buildings, including four schools. Furthermore, there will be sports and information centres, houses, offices and small firms and amenities, turning the area into a lively urban district. In order to shield the Leerpark from the noisy traffic surrounding it, industrial zones with firms were introduced along the adjacent highway and railway. Insula College, a college for intermediate vocational education, is situated on the border between the industrial buffer zone and the protected part of the quarter with living, working, learning and recreation. Vague At the commencement of the design process for the Insula College, there was a rather vague brief. The first stage of the process concerned a closed architectural competition in which the location and the functional programme had not yet been fully determined. But in order to arrive at some kind of result, a location had simply been chosen. In contrast, the programme was still open. The few available certainties decreased further as more information was supplied by the school management. Ideas on education are perpetually in motion without anyone knowing the exact outcome. The question was: to what extent did a conventional structure with classrooms harmonize with the aim of realizing project-based education in which various educational disciplines are integrated? Nevertheless, in view of DKV’s interest in change and flexibility, this proved to be an ideal starting point. Change The construction site consisted of a rectangle at the beginning of the Leerboulevard. A concept was formulated, beginning with an all-round column structure with free and flexible floors that are spatially defined by the presence of three contrasting patios that differ greatly in size and architectural elaboration. They enable daylight to penetrate deep into the building, and assign identity to the space without evoking ideas of hierarchy. The great freedom of layout that the plan allows anticipates ongoing and future changes in secondary education. Evidence of this was immediately produced just after DKV had won the architectural competition: in the follow-on stage, the project was relocated to a different site and had to meet a new brief. Matrix The definitive site of the Insula College lies at the end of the Leerboulevard, along the axis, a position that assigns the building a certain pre-eminence. The brief indicated a deliberate choice for project-based education, in which the lessons are increasingly presented in large open spaces comparable to open-plan offices. In conjunction with the concept of free and flexible floor division, this structure could be easily realized. The corresponding supporting structure is a concrete configuration consisting of square columns placed in a strict grid pattern, and identical floor slabs whose corners rest directly upon the columns. This simple money-saving system was applied to all storeys. On only one occasion, at the auditorium, did a change have to be made because an extremely large span was required at that spot. Accordingly, the limited construction budget could be devoted as much as possible to the spatial and visual aspects of the design. Horizontal The programme of the building itself is organized in horizontal fashion. The ground floor is extra-high in order to accommodate communal and public-oriented areas. At the front, a small auditorium has been installed and this also functions as a display window for the work of the pupils. A large auditorium, the school theatre, lies to the rear. The large dimensions give the building a majestic scale that is uncommon for a school. A large entrance patio is situated at the front, forming the gradual transition from public space to the inner world. Four storey-high pivot doors mark the boundary between the interior and exterior. They represent the physical separation between the pupils and uninvited passers-by, but simultaneously preserve the visual relationship due to their transparency. The upper floors are intended for the junior and the secondary classes respectively. Two new patios, one with water and one with wooden finishing and greenery, enhance the spatiality and transparency of these floors. Halls and corridors play an important role on all storeys. They have been designed in such a way that they encourage informal gathering, thus stimulating a sense of community. On the second floor of the secondary section, the principles of project-based education have been consistently applied, as far as is possible. Here the Economics section and the Health and Welfare section have been laid out as open-plan offices in which only a few elements are fixed. DKV created the design for both sections. Image Changeability and representation determined the appearance of the building. The façade is made entirely of glass. On the respective storeys, transparent and opaque glass panels alternate in a deliberately irregular pattern in which fifty per cent of the façade is transparent in each matrix grid. At ground level, the relationship between transparent and opaque is locally determined according to the necessity of contact with the outside world. The display-window section, for example, is almost completely transparent. Future Not even an expert seems able to predict how Dutch education will develop in the future. For this reason, it is positive that a building such as the Insula College can offer sufficient possibilities for alternative use. In the blueprint, the number of fixed elements has been reduced to a minimum. The points of vertical access, clusters of sanitary facilities and technical installation areas are the only fixed elements in the building. The floor areas at ground level and on the upper storeys can be allocated a completely new layout as required. The logic of keeping half of the façade transparent in each matrix section also allows the façade to be adapted as necessary. If required, this school also provides the opportunity to return to traditional classroom education, based on a separation of disciplines. The building can also be assigned a totally new function.

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