ArchitectOMA / Rem Koolhaas
Design TeamCristophe Cornubert with Richard Eelman, Gary Bates, Luc Veeger, Clement Gillet, Michel Melenhorst, Jacques Vink, Gaudi Houdaya, Enno Stemerding, Frans Blok, Henrik Valeur, Boukje Trenning
From the architect. Completed in 1997, the Educatorium in Utrecht, Netherlands was OMAs and Rem Koolhaas’ first university project. Part of a larger masterplan for the campus of De Uithof for Utrecht University to create a more westernized version of a college campus, the Educatorium was designed to be the new center of campus, not only geographically but socially as well.
Understood to be the encapsulation of the entire university experience in one building, Koolhaas and his team at OMA conceptualized the Educatorium as a factory for learning in both the traditional formalistic approach as well as the informal student to student exchange.
The Educatorium was designed specifically so that the processes of socialization, learning, and examination would be entangled within one another blurring the boundaries between lounges, classrooms, and corridors such that there is a constant redefinition of what it means to learn in a social environment.
The design of the Educatorium is conceptualized as two planes that fold, wrap, and interlock with one another. In section the two planes appear ot be in contention with one another; one plane rigid the other fluid a suggestion as to the programmatic, spatial, and social juxtapositions happening within. In both cases of the concrete floor plates, there is a sense of fluidity – some more apparent than others – where floor becomes wall becomes ceiling in one simple motion.
The plastic nature of the concrete evokes a soft, airy quality that enriches the buildings sense of openness and variability of circulation as a network or interconnected paths.
One of the most unique aspects of the Educatorium, which can be attributed to almost all of Koolhaas’ work, is that program is a fluid concept that aligns itself not on a single level, but on a multiplicity of levels where activity occurs above, below, and in between what would be considered normal floor plates.
In effect, classrooms, lounges, lecture halls, and general spaces are situated in ways that negotiate the Educatorium’s floor plates that rise from the ground floor throughout the rest of the building.
Rather than a standardized and strict spatial organization, rooms become objects affixed within the volume that begin to create new spatial conditions that force the students to negotiate. This happens in situations where the concrete plate wraps from floor to ceiling creating a sinuous space that is responding to the forces of the building; classrooms create new means of circulation between levels as their objectivity within the volume becomes a spatial division.
It is in these moments that the circulation occurs in the interstitial space where the boundaries are blurred between what is programmed and unprogrammed space.
Koolhaas used these open and flexible situations as opportunities to create varied places within the larger volume for smaller groups to gather. For example, the cafeteria’s volume – which is meant to accommodate 1,000 students – is subjected to the sloping floor plate above; Koolhaas implements a “randomized” column grid to break up the large volume into more intimate spaces that are defined by the clusters of columns in order to detract from the impersonal effects of the larger volume.
As with the notion of the rigid and fluid concrete planes that define the formal aspects of the building, Koolhaas continues the juxtaposition of differences in the circulation, space, social activity as a way in which to contextualize the entire campus and university within one single building.
Since its completion in 1997, the Educatorium has served as precedent to ways in which design can not only enhance the educational process, but it can also promote and sustain new, progressive methods of education.