FROM TRASH TO TREASURE
A sustainable learning space at Johannes High School
This project has gone through the process of two workshops with different outcomes – both concerned with changing the physical environment at Johannes Gymnasiet together with the students.
The theme of our project with students from Johannes Gymnasiet (High School) is to develop a design proposal for new and alternative learning spaces around the school.
We have started with sessions that are focused on inspiring the students to start thinking about architecture and design and the effect that built spaces can have on the body. We held a half day of seminars to introduce these concepts, with an expert on the design of learning spaces and an architect specializing in sustainable building giving the class some valuable insights which they then developed and discussed in workshop activities.
The second workshop was focused on taking this thinking out into the city. We led an ‘urban run’ which gave the students a number of sites (public spaces, buildings) for which to visit and a logbook in which to answer some questions based on their readings of the spaces, illustrated by photos of specific objects or features. Generating reflections and critical responses to designed objects and spaces is key to begin the process of creating design proposals.
After this stage, the students will analyse their findings and start to consider potential elements that they identify could work in a school setting. This is also where they learn more about the process of design: how to initiate ideas, refine them through testing and prototyping, leading towards a final proposal.
The Johannes Gymnasiet project therefore leads the high school students through the entire design practice, leading towards a final solution that will offer them a new learning space built to their own specifications, thus giving them ownership of the school environment and a unique learning experience.
For two years, we’ve been doing architecture classes at Johannes High School in Copenhagen. In a continuation of the first year’s work, where students came up with different design proposals for spaces around the school, this year we took it one step further. The students were to build a new social gathering space that they wanted to transform into an open and multifunctional space that could give the students an outside area for chilling and outdoor teaching. Through seminars, workshops and the use of different tools in our toolbox, the students became the designers and created the perfect urban space that fit their everyday needs. The project was interdisciplinary, involving biology, social studies and English. But most importantly the students achieved skills outside of the school curriculum. They learned by doing, and by going from a theoretical to practical level they learned from building the site with their own hands! And why not use the transformation of the site as part of a learning process?
Sustainability was a core component of the project, and we had a fruitful collaboration with the Goldmine – an experiment started by Copenhagen Municipality and Amager Resource Centre that operates the city’s recycling centres. The Goldmine has 12 start-up companies working within a circular economy, where resources and raw materials become part of the value chain again and again. It gave us a fresh and concrete perspective on upcycling. We wanted to equip the students with the right “recycled glasses” through which to look at the world from the beginning. A part of the process was a workshop at the Goldmine, where the students could explore the different materials. It sparked inspiration and gave them an understanding of the many possibilities instead of limitations.
After the workshop at the Goldmine we went back to qualify the material so it became a comprehensive proposal tailored to location, budget, time and wishes from the students. Because of arki_lab’s focus on the translation of ideas into concrete sketches for our projects, we are always trying different techniques that ensure citizens’ voices appear in the final design. We’ve learnt this high level of involvement is pivotal to the survival of the site and the design due to notions of ownership, responsibility and functionality. The final physical design is always essential when doing user involvement because there are so many needs to take into account. The students need to be guided through all the steps and every design proposal must be explained and communicated.
We looked through the different design proposals from the workshops at the high school and the workshop at the Goldmine and picked out the most central ideas. Through internal collaborative workshops at the office, we developed two different suggestions and made a small online survey to get the final feedback. They could vote on the suggestions and give comments on the overall design, process, and use of materials. The most popular suggestion from the survey served as a collective framework for the building days, but it was still open for new input and small corrections. This process helped to keep us on track and ensured that we didn’t lose any of the core ideas.
In 4 collaborative building days, we went from idea to reality with some very excited students. They were engaged in the whole transformation of the site from putting out gravel to the last detailing with smoothing out the wood and getting all the plants ready. Slowly the area got built up and the students got to work practically in a new way. It challenged them and new dynamics and synergies appeared. The Goldmine was a part of the process the whole week, providing us with recycled materials and guiding the students in different design solutions. In the end, we got a result that was part of a democratic design conversation where everyone had their say and we succeeded in tying all the different ideas together into a whole.
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