The Stuttgart-based architectural firm replaced an old building at the Hessenwaldschule – a cooperative school with 700 pupils – with an educational space, lit by Velux skylights, which is open and provides a healthy learning environment.
"The best thing that you can do to make people feel healthy is to use the right materials and lots of light to create good spaces," said Alexander Vohl, partner at Wulf Architekten.
A three-storey atrium connects three lernhäusern, or learning houses, in rectangular pavilions. Each lernhäusern caters to different school departments and educational levels, with the central hall acting as a space for pupils to move easily between them all.
Cooperative schools combine classroom-based learning with practical work experience, so flexibility is even more key.
Wood surfaces along the atrium and a terrazzo floor were chosen to reference the natural surroundings of the school, which is set in a forest. Perforated screens in the entryway mimic the effect of sunlight dappling through leaves.
Six long windows set into the roof, comprised of 84 Velux modular skylights, bathe the atrium in natural light and allow fresh air to circulate through the space.
Vohl, who describes them as "heaven strips", chose the skylights for their uniform finish, which creates an uninterrupted line when they're placed end to end. All of the mechanical elements are hidden within the skylights' frames.
In winter the Velux modular skylights absorb heat from the sun, warming the hall and the connecting pavilions. In summer the skylights can be opened to release stale air and allow fresh air to flow back through.
"We've got an ideal climate here. It's a climate, primarily, where you feel good, the architecture is great and the amount of light is fantastic. And so is the temperature. We work very well here," said the Hessenwaldschule's principal, Marcus Bürger.
"It's not just an indoor climate; it's a learning climate."
Studies have shown that children spend 90 per cent of their time indoors today, but that good lighting and ventilation can improve their ability to learn by up to 15 per cent.
The school has been awarded several architectural prizes, including the Prize for Excellence in Brick Architecture and the Hesse Chamber of Architecture Award.