Geert Groote College

As far as school extensions go, a cantilevered, crystalline, timber-clad volume supported by a bright red truss and accessed by a 15-m-wide flight of stairs would strike a foreign note in most ears. However, the addition to the Geert Groote College - a Waldorf secondary school located on the leafy southern edge of Amsterdam - does not feel out of place.

Unlike the ‘old’ section of the school, built in the 1990s - where deviation from the right angle was a dogma - the new annexe, designed by Search, achieved its final form through a series of contextual cues, architectural ambitions, municipal concessions and programmatic requirements.

‘The entrance to the school was a narrow stairway that we brought closer to the street - with a little nod to Hertzberger,’ says project architect Marijn Mees, who attended the school as a youngster. Mees and I are walking up the deep-stepped stairs, picking our way through clusters of loitering students.

Inside the school, a new, glazed entrance hall, which doubles as a cafeteria, sits above a half-sunken gymnasium belonging to the original structure and facilitates a gradual transition from the street to the heart of the building. Even though the upper floors are organized in a typologically conventional manner, they are replete with architectural quirks, such as the cantilever containing small stepped lecture rooms, a sculptural stair that snakes in front of a large triangular window overlooking the street, and a corridor that widens and bends. Art classrooms occupy the top floor, with its ceiling of bare corrugated steel. A sawtooth roof completes the picture. In this school, no two spaces are alike.

Rather than causing damage, the less-than-generous budget allocated to schools - always a sore spot for Dutch architects – allowed the architects to work with industrial, rough-around-the-edges finishes. ‘The building with all its idiosyncrasies reflects the school’s curriculum, which encourages students to discover themselves and their place in the world,’ Mees concludes.

Stichting voor Voortgezet Vrijeschoolonderwijs Noord-Holland
Amsterdam, NL