Ulm Model Wood

a school as many houses

elementary school with childcare

For outsiders, entries for German architectural competitions display an amazing uniformity. It is almost impossible to tell whether a building is in the city or in a rural area. The vast majority of buildings are shaped like compact boxes; the façades generally consist of a rhythm of repetitive, vertical windows; the architecture is strictly modernistic and the floor plans are efficient and orthogonal.

location: Ulm Unterweiler (D)
competition: Open competition with prequalification
year: 2014
collaboration/local partner: Sanwald Architekten Steinheim am Albuch
Ulm Site Plan
Ulm Church
Ulm Wood Construction

The surrounding area of the newly built primary school with childcare in a small village near the city of Ulm in the very south of Germany consists exclusively of small, plastered houses with steep sloping roofs, gardens and orchards. The church and the town hall appear as slightly larger houses built with the same shapes and materials and fit in seamlessly. The large, rather lumpy sports hall from the 1980s does not match the character and the small scale of the environment. A shoebox in the style of German "contest modernism" did not seem appropriate.

Ulm Model Town 2
Ulm Model Town

We designed the new school as a series of white houses with pitched roofs and gave them a cheerful paneling made of glazed bricks. We thought the school should belong to the neighbourhood and its history rather than to the large hall. In our design all rooms are located on the ground floor and have patio doors to adjacent school gardens. The shape of the roofs allows for plenty of daylight in the spacious rooms. One of the houses is designed as a covered outdoor area with open courtyards on either side.

Ulm Model Shadow Angle
Ulm Model Shadow Flat

In accordance with German competition rules, we did not submit renderings and other visualizations and limited ourselves to the careful development of floor plans, sections and volumes.

Unfortunately, the jury of the competition did not take into account the wishes of the users. Visitors of the exhibition about the contest gave us positive feedback about our entry. Apparently our view was too different, too daring, too little in accordance with prevailing conventions. The professional jury selected a prototype shoebox. Once again.

Ulm Diagramas

The winning scheme by a local architect

Ulm Ground Floor
Ulm First Floor

Competitions are important studies

The jury's preference might have been predictable. Nevertheless, we were a little surprised at this choice, especially as it was confirmed that there was no financial reason for the decision. In the winning scheme the existing lumpy gym hall is spatially taken as the main reference; the classrooms for the toddlers are situated on the first floor behind vertical repetitive window openings, without access to the orchards...

Nevertheless, we do not regret our work and consider it a valuable study of the spatiality of schools.

Ulm Elevation Complete
Ulm Section

Similar concept in Belgium

We were able to successfully reuse some of the ideas we developed at the time a year later for our competition entry for a high school in Antwerp Deurne on the Lakborslei, where we proposed a school in an informal setting as a series of houses with characteristic sloping roofs. Apparently there is much more understanding in Belgium about context and specificity.

Ulm Interior 1
Ulm Interior 4
Ulm Interior 3
Ulm Interior 2
Ulm Elevation South East