The project to build the new Josef-Schwarz School is one of the largest construction projects of its kind in Germany. The school will be built in the Neckarbogen quarter, a model development on the western edge of Heilbronn’s downtown. The all-day school (offering afternoon study periods and extracurricular activities) is both architecturally and educationally innovative. Covering a total area of around 50,000 square meters and offering bilingual teaching with an international focus, the project combines three types of school in one location. The architectural planning is guided by the idea of a lively campus with three self-contained buildings for an elementary school and two secondary schools (lower and upper) connected by a “schoolyard” level atop the ground floor. The integrated construction concept combines minimized building services installations, a hybrid timber structure, geothermal heating, photovoltaics, and regionally procured and recyclable materials in an aspirational approach geared to sustainability and high environmental standards.
One of the goals of the Dieter Schwarz Foundation is to apply a forward-thinking perspective in promoting education, science, and innovation. In Heilbronn, the foundation is working together with Phorms Education, operator of the Josef-Schwarz School, to develop a second facility in addition to the existing premises in Erlenbach. The new building, which is immediately adjacent to the Bildungscampus educational complex, will meet the need for high-quality education and offer students learning opportunities that begin with their first year in school and run right through to their final exam (Abitur) and international high-school diploma.
The living campus concept
The development plan for the campus was shaped by the metaphorical image of a generous, living organism that connects interior and exterior spaces on multiple levels. The raised schoolyard platform offers a learning landscape with squares and paths, greened open spaces, sports areas, terraces, and a school garden. These are arranged around three terraced structures reminiscent of pavilions. The additional “site” that is so created, which is separated in topographic terms from the public space below, has a clearly defined architectural border. With its spaces differentiated in a playful way, it offers a variety of options catering to students’ needs for quiet areas or places for play and exercise. The refined architectural concept includes permeable transitions between the buildings and the open space as well as an array of terraces, balconies, and patios that help to articulate the volumes at a scale that is appropriate for children.
Three pavilions for three age groups
Each of the three types of school is assigned its own functional unit and its own building, while the shared spaces are grouped together on the ground floor, which connects all three schools at street level. The main entrance on the west side leads into the spacious lobby area, a communication hub that facilitates lively interaction. The cafeteria, assembly hall, and the entrances to the elementary school and gyms are located here. A separate entrance is provided for the upper secondary school.
The three “pavilions” on the schoolyard level located above the ground floor are designed with the needs of each particular school type in mind: the elementary school is divided up into separate “learning houses,” each offering a varied range of spaces for the different grade levels; the lower secondary level is provided with attractive studios encouraging independent learning; and for the upper secondary level there are special subject clusters for course-level teaching.
Focus on sustainability
The new building for the Josef-Schwarz School will be constructed on the basis of a forward-looking integrated approach. Sustainability is a key consideration here: this begins with the choice of site, which is aimed at promoting redensification, and continues through to the development of the optimal load-bearing structure and reduced building services, coupled with the conscious decision to opt for certain materials and surfaces. This can be seen, for instance, in the fact that most of the construction will be carried out using a hybrid timber system. Wood is a “light,” environmentally friendly material with a positive CO2 balance, qualities that are all an asset here.
Energy will be provided by a combination of geothermal heating and cooling and photovoltaic elements for generating electricity. Conventional air conditioning will not be installed: this has been deliberately avoided to reduce technical installations to a minimum. A large heating/cooling ceiling made of clay will ensure a comfortable temperature and will work together with the wood construction technique to guarantee a pleasant indoor climate. Materials were selected on the basis of local availability and child-friendliness, with attention paid to the environmental impact of their production. The interiors and exterior spaces predominantly feature wood, earth, clay, rubber, and artificial stone. Natural building materials can be fully reused with zero downside. The goal is to secure a DGNB Platinum certificate for the school, thus emphasizing the sustainable principles underpinning the design of the building.