School transformation, Potsdam
POTSDAM (DE) - An extension and conversion by robertneun™ joins education with community.
In the 1960s and '70s, schools in Germany were usually built using a system of prefabricated elements, both in East and West. Differences only occur as a result of renovation and demolition. Since education in Germany is a matter for the individual federal states, it depends on which party has most influence in the government whether and how much money is available. And depending on how long it is until the next election, the Education portfolio may have highly variable priority levels. Whatever the case may be, parents rolling up their sleeves to help renovate their children's run-down school is not uncommon. In this light, The conversion and extension project by robertneun™, however, is a favourable exception, as it is funded by the City of Potsdam and in tune with the latest standards of energy efficiency and design.
The project is part of a broader set of measures designed to benefit the neighbourhood as a whole. 'Drewitz Garden Town – Social City' aims to upgrade the district on the periphery of the former Prussian royal capital, and the renovated school is a key contribution. robertneun™, a relatively young firm of architects from Berlin, persuaded the review committee with its design and was awarded the commission by the municipality. The foundation stone was laid on 30 March 2012. The same day, demolition of the connecting structure between the two three-storey school buildings began (both concrete slab models of the 'SR 80 Erfurt' type, developed for the city of Erfurt in 1980 and subsequently used across East Germany). When the work is finished, a new entrance will replace the connecting structure.
This entrance is the real highlight of the renovation. The main doors are situated two metres above street level, a feature used by the architects to create a dramatic effect. Whereas in the past access was via the courtyard, visitors are now guided from the street under a suspended cube (supported by diagonal pillars) towards a flight of steps leading to the teaching rooms and to the many other functions, which contribute to the building's appearance of a cross-generational Stadtteilschule, or community school. Originally, the school was just a school for children. Now there will be functions for different generations and the neighbourhood community. This changes its character, or the way the school building is seen by the people. The new entrance is a sort of symbol of that change, because the building could originally only be entered from the courtyard. Users will be able to enter from the street as well.
The suspended cube is home to the school's new assembly hall, while the lower level has rooms that local residents can use for meetings, parties and other events. Next to these is the school canteen.
The central motif of the design is 'bracketing' – in terms of town planning, in social terms, but also in architectural terms. Not only are the neighbourhood and the school bracketed together, and the buildings on either side of the entrance, but also different historical periods: with their neo-modernist design, robertneun™ is sending a strong signal about dealing with the legacy of late modernism, distilling the strengths from the sober design and translating them into a timely idiom. This will be complemented by a robust choice of materials also seemingly derived from late modernism: polycarbonate plastic, plywood and unclad concrete. It will be interesting to see how this building enriches Potsdam-Drewitz. And how it is received by local residents.
June | 2012 | Germany | Christian Welzbacher