Unterdorf Elementary School, Höchst (AT)

The Unterdorf elementary school in Höchst provides an ideal educational facility for modern pedagogic approaches. It is an uncompromising example of cluster design offering a flexible and nurturing learning environment. In an elegant, linear, one-story wooden structure, four identical teaching clusters are placed on the east side. The heart of each cluster is a top-lighted lounge with a raised roof.

 

Urban Context

The flat school building blends harmoniously into the loosely built environment of single-family houses. The schoolyard in front of the auditorium is connected to the Unterdorf path network. Local residents can use parts of the outdoor areas and sports facilities as freely accessible play and leisure areas.

Client: Gemeinde Höchst
Location: A-6973 Höchst, Gaißauer Straße 10
Architecture: Dietrich | Untertrifaller
Project management: Peter Nussbaumer, Katharina Reiner
Competition: 2013
Construction: 2015-2017
Area: 2,530 m²
Ecology: communal building records: 940 points
Capacity: 200 students / 8 classes + pre-school class

Awards: The Plan Award 2018; Big See Wood Design Award 2018; Wood, Design & Building Award 2017 (Canadian Wood Council)

Planning 
site management: gbd, Dornbirn / statics timber: Merz Kley Partner, Dornbirn / statics concrete: Gehrer, Höchst / HAVCR: e-plus, Egg / electronics: Hecht, Rankweil / building physics: Weithas, Lauterach / ecology: Spektrum, Dornbirn / landscape: Heinrich, Winterthur

Execution
builder: i+R Gruppe, Lauterach / timber construction: Dobler, Röthis / heating & sanitary: Kienreich, Lauterach / ventilation: Kranz Luft-Klima-Technik, Weiler / electrics: Aschaber, Kitzbühel

Photos: © Bruno Klomfar

Organization in Clusters

Playful learning in small groups characterizes the pedagogical concept. Therefore each group gets their own “house” on the east side of the building. In each of the four clusters, two classrooms, a multi-purpose room, a cloakroom with bathrooms and a relaxation area surround a central lounge.

Spatial diversity and transparency result in a varied, flexible learning environment. Opposite, on the west side, the special classes and the administration are located, connected to the lowered gymnasium by a spacious auditorium. Moveable walls can isolate the auditorium from the school area, offering room for external events such as lectures, readings etc. with a maximum of 120 persons.

The separate access of the gymnasium enables local sport clubs to use it outside school hours.

The central lounge with its pyramid-shaped high ceiling and large skylight, allows natural light to stream into the room, offering an airy and dramatic space. Visual axes are a constant invitation to use the space in the middle, strengthening the sense of community within the cluster. A direct access to an own garden and outdoor class area includes nature and allows short ways.
The entrance hall can also be used for external events.
The two-story gymnasium is lowered to keep the building flat.

Transparent Interiors

Large glazing provides transparency and allows teachers to always keep an eye on the students during their activities in small groups and in different rooms.

Direct Garden Access

Private gardens and the outdoor classrooms with direct access from each cluster blur the boundaries between the interior and exterior and integrate nature into the educational environment.

Sustainable Construction

The school – 100 meters long, 40 meters wide and 4.50 meters high – is constructed entirely of wood, except for the concreted area touching the ground. The unclad wooden construction, made of multi-layered, glued solid wood panels, remains visible in all rooms. Students benefit from a pleasant, warm atmosphere in the building, which at the same time saves heating costs.

The renewable, regional building materials dramatically reduce the “gray” energy factor. With 940 points, the school in Unterdorf has been awarded one of the highest scores for a new building in Vorarlberg’s “communal building records”.
The extensively greened flat roof compensates for the higher consumption of floor space. This not only provides optimum thermal insulation and protection against overheating in summer, but is also an ideal bee pasture and an untouchable, living biotope for numerous insects.

The entire school building was optimized in terms of energy and building technology. The features: highly thermally insulated components, windows suitable for passive houses with triple insulating glazing, low-temperature heating via floor, ventilation system with heat recovery and air volume control via CO² sensor, free cooling via groundwater probe, night ventilation for cooling in summer. The heating energy requirement is 16 kWh/m²a.

Pedagogical Concept realized together

With our school architecture, we aim to support new forms of teaching and facilitate inclusion, i.e. the equal participation of all students and lessons tailored to their individual needs. Cluster schools offer the best conditions for this. This pedagogical concept means teaching in small groups, flexible rooms and varied open spaces, ideally with an outdoor reference. A characteristic feature is the dissolution of the rigid spatial program: classrooms along access corridors are replaced by open floor plans that enable different forms of teaching and learning.

A working group of teachers, community representatives and consultants was involved in the competition and the planning from the very beginning and participated regularly in the construction meetings. This close cooperation was an essential factor for the successful and fast realization. This pilot project sets a new standard for schools and hopefully acts as a multiplier for timber construction in Austria.