Vertical Schoolyard

Østerbro International School ØIS, a private school founded in 2009 to meet the demands of the International English-speaking community in Copenhagen, has outgrown its existing buildings.

The expansion of the school from 60 pupils in 2009 to 255 pupils from 54 different nationalities in 2014 requires new and better facilities, which also have to meet international IB World School standards. Improved afterschool facilities, new office and staff spaces, a new kindergarten, flexible multi-spaces and a new gym are required, along with outdoor spaces for play and sports activities.

Currently, the outdoor areas of the school are almost nonexistent, as the only space available on the plot is the fire road, along with a tiny play area in front of the afterschool building, a one-story barn in poor condition. The lack of space creates a feeling of claustrophobia, which however disappears in the moment one moves up in the existing school building to gain contact to the public green of Strandboulevarden and the nearby Northern harbor.

How to escape claustrophobia and provide a connection to the great outdoor spaces nearby? How to address the ever-present issue of lack of outdoor spaces?

By removing the existing afterschool barn, a large outdoor space with relationship to Strandboulevarden and the nearby residential green pocket parks is created. The new outdoor space will provide much needed space for play and outdoor activities for pupils and neighbors.

The removed program is stacked, along with the new required functions, on top of the new gym, which is extended downwards to provide increased ceiling height.

By organizing each function as a separate volume with own terrace, a cluster of independent units emerges. The cluster organization improves the typical corridor-based classroom layout by securing improved light and view conditions, as well as access to outdoor spaces as classroom extensions.

Due to the compact program distribution, an unused space emerges between the new school functions and the allowed maximum building envelope. How to make use of this hidden potential?

Increasing the gross floor area of the building is not an option due to local plan limitations.

What if we extended the playgrounds of the school vertically? By inserting a number of ‘outdoor classrooms’ into this unused space between program and maximum building envelope materialized as a transparent net structure, a continuation of the playground areas at ground floor emerges like a vertical schoolyard with integrated school functions.

The shared landscape of terraces with integrated outdoor classrooms allow for different scales of interaction and maintain a great adaptability of the learning environments. The outdoor areas provide great settings for learning, playing and informal being together - imagine being outside for a plein-air painting session, picking up your self-grown basil in the glasshouse during the cooking home economics class just in front of your classroom, having an outdoor crawl session in the ball pit, joining the yoga class in the green gazebo pavilion, or playing badminton on the roof terrace with the best harbor view in the entire inner city!

The Vertical Schoolyard adds diversity to everyday school life. It provides new opportunities for reflection and recreation. It supports both project-oriented teaching methods as well as teaching experiments. It supports socializing, outdoor life and community involvement.

The Vertical Schoolyard turns the outdoors into a teaching tool and a venue for social life and physical activity, thereby contributing to the improvement of the teaching environment, while also adding value to the surrounding neighborhood of Østerbro, one of the densest residential areas of Copenhagen.

Client: ØIS Østerbro International School

Program: ØIS school extension, including afterschool facilities, new office and staff spaces, new kindergarten, flexible multi-spaces and new gym, total gross floor area 1.250m2

Year: 2014 -

Location: Østerbro, Copenhagen, Denmark

Team: Serban Cornea, Kristina Adsersen, Marcin Kruk, Claudia Scappini, Jolanta Szczepanik, Krzysztof Fornalewski, Mihael Rotarescu

Status: commission