Sydhavnen Skolen by JJW Arkitekter



Almost every area of the city has a major new school and most by a major Danish architect or architectural partnership. The new school in the new development of the south harbour is by JJW Arkitekter.

It’s a large and dramatic building on an irregularly shaped plot with some parts towards the street supported on high columns so suspended over the pavement to provide public areas underneath opening off the pavement to provide some cover where children and parents can meet and talk or play when they come into the school or when they leave in the afternoon … an important part of the social life of any school here in Denmark. 

The school is in the centre of the new area, right on to the pavement, clearly visible from adjoining streets and nearby buildings and, looking out, the views are of the new neighbourhood. That’s not a limitation or a criticism but praise for how the school is designed to fit physically and obviously into the community. The building can be used by community so, for instance, dental care for the area is based in the building.

On the side away from the street, there are dramatic terraces, raised play areas, some at roof level, and broad walks and steps down to an inlet of the harbour, and as at Kids City in Christianshavn by COBE, smaller children are generally at the lower and more enclosed areas and more vigorous activities are higher up the building.

And again, as at Kids City, the arrangement of spaces deliberately reflects the organisation of the wider community so the description by the architect talks about the the lower level being like a town square.

Inside it is no less dramatic than outside - if anything more dramatic - with sections opening up through two or three floors with upper levels and narrower staircases cantilevered out or supported on thin columns or with wide flights of steps doubling as lecture rooms or forming places to meet.

Curiously this is what I like most and like least about the building. It’s a complicated, dramatic and fascinating building inside and out and children here presumably develop agility and stamina quite quickly and a head for heights. This is certainly the antidote to the one classroom-fits-all style of schools from the late 19th and early 20th century or the all-on-a-level schools of the post-war period. There are self-contained classrooms but they entered from wide wide and long open spaces with a variety of areas where different types of teaching or different activities can take place with smaller or larger numbers. The architects talk about the school having “an extremely high functional, spatial and tectonic quality” but architecture has and should have a clear vocabulary and in that sense should be readable … you should be able to see where to go and to some extent identify functions from the style and form of the architecture. That’s not to suggest it should not be fun but maybe just slightly more rational and slightly more solid. Perhaps, more of the architecture should be the background providing the venue for life here and not be the subject.

Having said that, photographs of the interior show masses of natural light - despite this being such a large and deep building - and strong confident use of colour and really good details like deep window seats or areas on the terraces that are more intimate. Encouraging and reinforcing friendship bonds seems to be an important part of the Danish education ethos. Certainly, with school buildings like this, you can see exactly why Danish children grow up appreciating good design and grow up to see good design as a strong part of their day-to-day lives.

Sydhavnen Skolen by JJW Arkitekter


for comparison see Kids City in Christianshavn by COBE