The Danish School Building of the Year is much more than just a school
The Children’s and Culture Centre in Høje-Taastrup Municipality is a vibrant, multifunctional building that buzzes with life. We spoke to Lene Jensby Lange, who advises on learning environments. As a member of the professional jury, she helped to choose the special Children’s and Culture Centre as Danish School Building of the Year 2023.
One word that characterises Høje-Taastrup Municipality’s new Children’s and Culture Centre is 'vibrant'. This is already clear when you hear how many different activities and institutions are gathered under one roof.
Denmark's official best school building has room for two classes in each year group from reception up to 6th grade. What's more, the building also houses a daycare institution with both kindergarten and nursery-age children as well as an after-school club. Not to mention the cultural offerings in the form of a music, art and drama school. Finally, the building also functions as a cultural centre for the surrounding residential area, Taastrupgaard, as well as the municipality’s other residents.
Lene Jensby Lange is the owner and director of the consultancy firm Autens, which advises on how to create inspiring schools and educational environments. She is also a member of the professional jury, which – together with the public votes – chose this year’s school building. She sees many unique strengths in the centre in Høje-Taastrup.
"You get the flow of people who use the building, but you also get other professionals working there on a daily basis together with teachers and educators. This means that the centre merges a lot of different professions and interests. These enrich each other, so that you get a school with far better opportunities to work creatively. Music, visual art and handicrafts all move closer to the children’s everyday lives," she says.
The Children’s and Culture Centre fills a total of 9,500 square metres and was completed in January 2023.
A building buzzing with possibilities
Naturally, children and young people are at the heart of the new Children’s and Culture Centre. The building is designed however to accommodate many stakeholders and types of activities at different times of the day. It consists of two sports halls, a motor skills development hall, two visual arts rooms, six music rooms and an audiovisual room. Not to mention, of course, the many classrooms and various childcare institutions.
And the many opportunities will benefit the children’s education, according to Lene Jensby Lange:
"It creates a greater space for opportunities than a school can normally offer. It’s about having some facilities available that you don't have other places. But it’s also about the fact that the children are surrounded by so many more adults who work full-time in the building. All these people can learn from each other. In learning environments, a lot of effort is made to create varied opportunities. This means that the children can 'flex' in and out of different types of learning environments," she says and gives some examples:
"There is an opportunity for meeting up and for collaboration. There are places where the children have bases and can meet. There are also some excellent communal areas. These are designed with lots of small corners, because it's important to have places to dive deeper into a project or to have good, intimate breaks with friends. So you don't just sit in a classroom all the time, but have the opportunity to learn, collaborate and be together in a multitude of ways," she says.
The school is constructed as four ‘cultural clusters’ – music, technology, creativity and movement – each with its own visual character. At its heart is a ‘cultural square’ with a central staircase.
Vibrant buildings place strict requirements on materials
You might think that a building with so many users and possibilities could easily become very hectic, but this is not the case, Lene Jensby Lange assures us.
"It’s not all just a big mess. You enter a foyer that opens up into a treasure trove of possibilities. From here, users go to different places. The actual school section extends upwards, with most of the workshop rooms down on the ground floor. It’s a well-organised building that distributes itself fairly naturally," she explains. She emphasises that the building's many users and possibilities place great demands on materials and indoor climate, however:
"Acoustics are incredibly important. This is a fundamental prerequisite in order to realise the huge potential and multiple purposes of the building. Fortunately, there has been a huge development in this area, which means that we can now have more open environments where you can still hear yourself think and get stuck into a project – even with so many people working together," she says.
She points out that ceilings and other surfaces are designed to offer acoustic regulation, which has also been incorporated into fixtures and fittings.
Children’s learning depends on a good environment
Several variants of Troldtekt acoustic solutions have been chosen for the ceilings to contribute to a healthy indoor climate with pleasant acoustics. Around the school’s common areas, Troldtekt in light nature is used. In the halls, grey Troldtekt acoustic panels have been installed as a wall solution.
"Both the children and educational staff spend many hours in the building every day and use it flexibly in every sense of the word, from closed base rooms and workshops to the open spaces. So it's important to ensure a calm and comfortable acoustic environment throughout the many rooms in the building. This ensures good conditions for contemplation, play and learning.
The interiors and exteriors of Høje-Taastrup Children's and Culture Centre are based on the same types of materials – brick, concrete, wood and glass. A light and airy feel extends indoors, with plenty of daylight, drawing attention to the distinctive designs of the clusters.
The neutral walls are an airy light grey, which tones down the light slightly for better visual comfort. The linoleum floors are in toned-down pastel colours to counterbalance the more raw concrete and steel surfaces. The zoned flooring colours also help with wayfinding and indicate the different zones.
Facts about the Children’s and Culture Centre
Institutions that use the building:
- Daycare: Space for 120 kindergarten children in 6 group rooms. 80 nursery-age children in 8 smaller bases
- School, reception – 6th grade: Room for two classes in each year group with capacity for 392 pupils. From its opening in January 2023, there are two reception classes and one class for each year from 1st to 4th grade.
- After-school institution
- Culture schools: Music, Art and Drama School
- Culture centre: A fencing club and a taekwondo club currently use the leisure facilities.
The building's facilities:
- Two halls for sports, events and so on. A motor skills development hall, which is shared between the daycare institution during daytime hours and the Drama School at other times. Two large visual arts rooms. Six music rooms. Audiovisual room. The Cultural Square – the heart of the building. 'Makerspaces', or collaborative work spaces.
- The school has its own sports field.
- The building has 160 solar panels on the roof that produce at least 50,000 kWh annually.