Lille Herentals Basisschool Groep Kinderen

open-air schools under glass

Freinet elementary schools in Lille and Herentals

The sites for the two Freinet schools in Lille and Herentals are overwhelming. Green, spacious, central and yet sheltered and intimate. Simply ideal for a natural learning environment. We designed two small school buildings embedded in nature. With large rooms, high ceilings and lots of light. They are compact schools without hallways. A large greenhouse for playing, running, gardening instead of a conventional corridor. Façades without screens or shutters but with a large pergola covered by plants protecting the classrooms from the sun. Large houses with sloping roofs and grass on them. No classroom without glazed doors to the garden. Learning and living in the middle of nature.

The projects for the Freinet primary schools in Lille and Herentals are inspired by the rich tradition of open-air schools in Europe. The movement mainly created special buildings in the first half of the 20th century, with the contact of students with nature being the main focus of both the architecture and the pedagogical approach. In our opinion, the often radical simplicity of this architecture is utterly timeless and we find it inspiring for our present time.

location: Lille and Herentals (BE)
design: 2009-2012
realisation: 2013-2014
client: GO! -Onderwijs van de Vlaamse Gemenschap
structural engineer: Pieters Bouwtechniek
advisor - technical installations: Adviesbureau van der Weele
advisor - construction: Architectenbureau Van Peer
contractor: Swinnen
photography: Luuk Kramer, Karin Borghouts
Lille Herentals Openluchtschool
Lille Herentals Tweede Gemeentelijke Openluchtschool

Second Public Open School, Oosterparkschool, Amsterdam, 1931

Lille Herentals Garden
Lille Herentals Basisschool Kinderen Buiten Spelen

In the public primary schools of the Flemish villages of Lille and Herentals, students are taught according to the pedagogical principles of Célestin Freinet. Both schools belong to the same organisation and work closely together. For a long time both schools were housed in pavilion-like, temporary school buildings from the 1960s. These pavilions were very spacious as they were conceived for a much larger number of pupils. Here teachers and children found endless possibilities for unconventional use despite many leaks and the general poor condition of the buildings. 

Because both school sites have a lot in common, it was obvious to consider the design of both schools as one single project. We therefore designed one prototype school suitable for both locations. Our main ambition was to do justice to the ideals of the Freinet educational system and to provide as much space and freedom as the previous pavilions had - despite the regulated budgets and space limits we had to deal with.

Lille Herentals Basisschool Locatie Natuur
Lille Herentals Basisschool Tuin Boom
Lille Herentals Class
Lille Herentals Class Empty

The classrooms in the schools are accommodated in simple barn-like volumes. They are large, have light and views on both sides and extra height due to the pitched roof. A wooden beam in each room offers the possibility to install a little mezzanine floor at a later stage or allows other creative uses. The buildings are built conventionally, using typical brickwork and plasterwork. The concrete roof remains partly visible in the interior and is covered in herbs and mosses.

Lille Herentals Basisschool Kapstok

The corridor is constructed as a standard greenhouse placed along the entire north side of the school building. By keeping the corridor outside the regulated spatial limits of Flemish schools, the entire available space for the school was allocated to the classrooms. The greenhouse can be used as an indoor playground and winter garden.

Lille Herentals Class Basin
Lille Herentals Washroom
Lille Herentals Basisschool Zonlicht Geel

In this school there is no distinction between inside and outside. The greenhouse places the schools in the tradition of open-air schools, which created beautiful learning environments.

Lille Herentals Miva
Lille Herentals Plattegrond

floorplan and section, school in Lille

Lille Herentals Entrance

The plans are as simple as possible. 100 per cent of the available floor area (regulated maximum floor area) is assigned to the classrooms. The greenhouse is conceived as hallway, playroom, indoor outdoor space and class extension. At the same time, the greenhouse forms a covered part of the school garden.

Lille Herentals Doorsnede
Lille Herentals Pergola
Lille Herentals Pergola2

The pergola is covered with climbing plants and the roof with herbs and mosses. 

Lille Herentals Old
Lille Herentals Gang

The existing rooms offered little comfort but plenty of space - some classes made use of as many as three classrooms they could fill with toys, materials and installations. The new school brings back the original qualities as much as possible.

Lille Herentals Gang2