Putting identity and learning up on the walls

Location: Sortedam Public School, Copenhagen, Denmark
Client: Sortedam Public School, Municipality of Copenhagen, and the Danish Arts Foundation
Type: Education, Urban Interventions, Citizen Involvement
Status: Finished
Team members: Rasmus Frisk, Jeanette Frisk

At Sortedam School, right by the Lakes of central Copenhagen, we designed a new interior for the stairs and hallways. Based on the students’ visions, spatial logistics, and school budget, we were there to plaster the walls with identity and education.

We conducted focus group interviews and made an online survey for all the important users of the school: students, teachers and administration. This led to two fundamental insights: Firstly the school had a very interesting history. It was the first mixed gender school in Copenhagen and had many prominent alumni like the Danish natural science family [Niels, Harald & Aage] Bohr. Secondly and somewhat shockingly, none of the pupils knew about this history! Furthermore, there was a lack of positive associations with the school. It was kind of an identity crisis.

Enter: arki_lab.

With the teachers’ help, we incorporated the school curriculum so that the design was relevant to the students’ learning and could be used as an extension of the classroom. This led us to combine the school’s rich history with mathematical formulas, grammar, human development, geography, etc. This was illustrated with fresh, young graphics inspired by street art workshops with the pupils along with their desire for something that looked ‘professional and cool.’ For example, we heard a story about the school’s founder, Hanna Adler, known for her ‘Object Lessons’, bringing a cow into the classroom for the pupils to see, smell and touch. This was combined with lessons in home economics about where meat comes from. So we plastered a life-size cow walking past the front door.

The next step was to integrate the conceptual ideas into the physical space using the walls and hallways. Here we needed to contribute our skills as architects to maximise the school’s odd layout. This lead to cool results like the stairwell becoming the spectrum of evolution, where you start with the Fibonacci sequence forming the world’s first seashells, ascending the steps past the evolution of animals and on to the evolution of humans. On the next floor is a map of the world depicting the variation in landscape, animals, important buildings and landmarks, and activities you find across the globe. The next floor shows different aspects of human culture, with quotes from actors, musicians and politicians as alumni from the school. Climbing to the height of the Copenhagen rooftops, we meet the water cycle with references to current climate debates. At the top of the stairwell, we find ourselves in outer space, where we can see the layout of the solar system, and discover the link between Niels Bohr’s atomic model and vastness of the universe, through Charles and Ray Eames’ “Powers of Ten.”


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