TUBINGEN – Education is the flavour of the day for a small university town in south Germany. Stuttgart-based architecture firm (se)arch won a competition back in 2011 to build a new education centre just outside the medieval city. The site – on the south bank of the Neckar river – has a flawless view up to the historical Hohentubingen Castle which highlights the project’s position amongst the rural landscape on the city’s outskirts.
The education centre is an ensemble of two differently-sized structures – a two-storey primary school and a single-storey day-care facility for infants – with a timber-framed construction inspired by existing pavilion-style buildings in the surrounding area.
The architect explains: ‘Splitting the entire cubature into two smaller buildings creates a child-friendly scale.’ The simple form of the square plan with a pyramid roof is also specifically intended to be personable for young children, as it is a relatable ‘house shape’. Despite being split in two, the project is compact and refined. The two buildings are linked by a partially-covered courtyard which creates a social meeting place.
The cedar-wood shingles which clad the elevations of the single-storey unit are matched on the upper level of the school building. In this way, it gives the impression that it has been lifted above its counterpart. The ground level features the more communal spaces, such as the cafeteria and the library, expressing a clean and calm internal atmosphere. Classrooms are accommodated on the top floor, with ample daylighting brightening the space through the skylight. The raw material palette is simple and subtle.
The design meets ‘passive house’ criteria and holds a DGNB Silver rating – a German certification scheme based on BREEAM and LEED credentials. A mechanical ventilation system with heat recovery eliminates the need for extensive heating units, bringing down the carbon footprint of the site and improving its ecological performance. When choosing materials for the education centre project, the (se)arch team targeted low-pollutant building materials, comparing alternatives based on their environmental impact and embodied energies.
While the goal of an eco-friendly building was identified at the start of the project, the architect is adamant that good environmental practices should enhance the character of architecture and not control it. ‘The buildings should not look like eco-buildings but like high-quality architecture. We are proud to have integrated these aspects of energy efficiency into the project. In our mind, questions of energy efficiency should serve the architecture and not the other way around.’