Photography: Eik Frenzel and Radek Brunecky
The Wallisian Alps rise in silhouette above the new Vouvry district schoolhouse, which lies on a flat plain between historic Vouvry village and the Rhone river. Larger-than-life commercial structures have long defined the character of settlements along the Rhone valley, and this new construction – which accommodates both classrooms and a sports arena under one roof – fits the mold perfectly.
The uniform structure is coated in a fine layer of copper and brass that mirrors the surrounding greenery in softened and muted tones. The traditionally constructed, folded facade was surely chosen to disrupt what would have been an overly massive, blocky outline, and provides a welcome contrast to the dominant pattern of rigid elements. Both upper stories are unified in a seamless façade of glazed windows, with the floor plan offset inward at a shallow angle.
The vertically oriented entrance hall is set back slightly from the wall of windows, which floods the area with light and makes an inviting impression on visitors. The cantilevered upper stories overhang the common area by eight meters, providing a covered meeting and living space. There are two main entrances on the first floor, located cater-corner on the east- and west-facing walls.
The heart of the new building is the triple gym, which is ringed by an efficiently organized outer layer of cafeterias and changing rooms. Two cascading staircases spiral upward toward the classrooms and instructional spaces on the upper stories, which are laid out like the spokes of a windmill. This is a place where people enjoy spending time; where break rooms abound, and every hallway leads to an outside view.
The open floor plan not only provides a pleasant environment, but also harmonizes well with the spirit and principal function of the building. Sightlines across the daylight flooded central hall and between the floors draw disparate design elements together into a coherent whole. The design of the functional layers, clearly evident in the floor plan, is expressed spatially through careful material and color design. Meeting and boundary areas are predominantly dark red, intended to suggest serenity and intimacy. The walls and floors of the classrooms use light and open colors. White is reserved for the centrally embedded gym, where sunlight streaming through the skylights reflects off the walls to brighten the surrounding corridors.
The gym and classrooms had to be lined with special acoustic panels so that both functions could coexist without conflict.The structural design concept is based on a superstructure. The regularly spaced classroom walls on the second floor form a rigid system with their associated floor and ceiling layers. The radial tensile and compressive strain within the ceilings flows around the open gym area in the center of the building to form a structure-wide tension and compression ring. Reinforced steel cables serve to minimize deformation in high tension zones. The cantilevered design, in which the second floor is suspended from the layers above, permits great flexibility in designing functional spaces without walls or support columns.