Denmark’s oldest school has undergone a 21st century make-over. C. F. Møller Architects have transformed the Sølvgade School into a colourful, minimalist and energy-efficient study centre, but one that still looks up to its historic neighbourhood.
C. F. Møller Architects, founded in 1924, keeps a troika of design basics close to its heart – simplicity, clarity and unpretentiousness. This obedience to aesthetic austerity is on ample display in their latest project – the Sølvgade School in Copenhagen. The unusual façade of the school is a standout, but much like the architects themselves, it still manages to look unassuming.
The Sølvgade Schools are Denmark’s oldest, first built in early 19th century. As the decades rolled by, the school found itself stuck in an identity crisis, exacerbated by lack of space and a more modern look.
A remarkable feature about the school is its neighbourhood. The yellow and red houses of the erstwhile naval settlement of Nyboder; the Castle of Rosenborg; and the Kongens Havepark form a cluster of nostalgia around the building.
Designing a school, much like running one, requires a superhero level of dexterity. If it is to be modern, it can’t surely be flamboyantly so. If it decides to be staid, it will surely inspire sighs from generations of students to come. So for what it has conjured up, C. F. Møller deserves praise.
The renovated school is brilliantly modern in its look, but not stifling in its treatment. The façade has no murals or boards on it, but has been fitted with glass panels and a palate full of colours. The mix of colour, matt and restrained, is fascinating because the six-storey building still manages to look humble. It is apparent that the designers were conscious of the historical air the school breathes, and they have successfully built a place that is in keeping with the times, but is careful of not becoming a jarring totem of new design.
The school’s façade is a work of a smart double-layer design that cuts off the traffic noise from the busy road it faces. It serves some additional purposes – the layering makes the building cosily insulated, and builds natural ducts for ventilation. This mix of mechanical and natural ventilation is an energy-efficient arrangement.
The building is one great angular box, with no undulating lines distressing it, except of the sloping roof on one end, a tribute to the older structures around.
The façade is a grid of glass encased windows, with sunken columns of more windows with mesh overheads that throw spectacular shadows on to the alternating colours of yellow, purple and blues.
The non-uniform length and breadth of the windows accord the face of the building some verve. The glass and colours form a crackling combination, becoming the drawing board of whimsical shadows and reflections, but still manage to look solid and sturdy. Attending this school must feel like visiting a protective but fun-loving aunt.
The base of the building is secured by solid glass with the beautiful Sølvgade School insignia embossed on it.The interiors carry forward the clean, smooth texture of the exterior, while the glass walls make the corridors and stairways come alive with sweeps of ethereal light.
The play area is a good example of the minimalism of the place. The walls are accented by big blocks of blue tile, punctuated instead of being fitted in one sweep. The room’s length is accentuated by the ceiling, which has horizontal detailing with angular tube lamps fitted into them. It seems to capture the pace of activity that will dominate the room. With great foresight the walls of a room like this have been kept to a deepest shade of grey, as the floor has enough colour whirls to offer.
From the walls to the floor, impeccable order rules the roost here. Sockets, lights and other essentials have found a way to be unobtrusive, gifting the students a superb space to move about in without any trepidation. The walls slope and duck, reminding them that they needn’t necessarily stick to the rules.
The Sølvgade School today looks like an eccentric distant cousin of its original person. As architect and partner, Lone Wiggers puts it, the idea was to “create a building that speaks the language of the children – colourful and musical.” It would have been easy to fall under the spell of the surroundings, and build something less modern but the architects and designers chose admiration over intimidation and the result is a beautiful school – a head-turner which is grounded in old-school values. Not an easy equation to strike in these exhibitionist times.
Text By Shruti Nambiar
Photographs Adam Mørk