Innovative Bioclimatic European School Third Prize Winning Proposal / Atelier3AM

  • 13 Jan 2013
  • by
  • Educational mini
Courtesy of

The formal strategy in the design for the Innovative Bioclimatic European School by Atelier3AM, which won the third prize in the international competition, is based on the strong contrast of materials, and propelled by the duality of opaque/transparent. Inspired by the courtyard typology, their design creates a cluster of three separate courtyard buildings defining each educational unit, and connected by a central square. This objective was confronted by the physical site constraints, as well as by opportunities presented by sensible solar orientation and the channeling of the predominant winds. More images and architects’ description after the break.

Courtesy of Atelier3AM

Common Ground

Throughout the history of the built environment, the courtyard typology is marked by the universality of its use. In hotter climates it has provided a model for passive cooling through cross ventilation, heat exhaust, and the creation of a microclimate. More fundamentally, it has brought people together for the cultivation of lasting relationships. This archetype forms the basis of our design for the SEEH Bioclimatic School Complex. Within the mosaic of multiculturalism, and with multiple stages of life forming a cohesive whole, it is with the courtyard that we strive to create common ground, and to give expression to the cosmopolitan history and populace of Crete. The project responds to the directive that all educational units “constitute an entity while at the same time be capable of operating independently”.

common ground

Design Approach

Solid exterior walls define the courtyards. Carved from this white mass, tall vertical windows illuminate the spaces beyond. Lining the interior of these courtyards, a cloister shaded by olive-wood fins defines the inner world of the schools. The connection of buildings to landscape presents two contrasting conditions: Where the building is embedded into the natural topography of the site, a language of stone walls retains earth and provides a visual foundation for the more fluid and airy white mass above. Where the natural topography drops, piloti support the underbelly of the schools, creating outdoor shaded areas of education, physical activity, and repose.

primary school courtyard

Bioclimatic Foundations

A more balanced relationship between the complex and its natural environment is integral to the project, and necessitates a holisitic approach to the material, tectonic, and planning development of the project. Bioclimatic concepts are structured by the courtyard, and reinforced by its adaptation to state of the art measures. Two main factors influenced these strategies, and established the general orientation and massing of the buildings: consistency of wind direction, as well as Heraklion’s high number of annual sun hours (approx. 2700). Cross ventilation, southern exposure, and thermal mass are here orchestrated in varied modes of operation, in order to address both winter as well as the warmer months of the school year. Site ecosystems have also been thoroughly considered for the purposes of biodiversity, water retention and purification, and heat dissipation, amongst other objectives. The material pallette is inspired by the Cretan landscape and by indigenous textures to Crete, seeking to reinterpret a vernacular and climate-responsive language.

kindergarten courtyard

The Learning Environment

From conceptual design through to the current stage, the development of spaces for learning have been influenced by the inclusion of all (K-12) school ages. A strong collective identity should be maintained, but exist alongside the more specific spatial, functional, and social needs of all stages of childhood education. Classroom arrangements are based on notions of community, constituting various forms of “neighborhoods” in which students can engage in educational and social activities beyond the classroom.

secondary school courtyard

A Lasting Impression

In designing for the most impressionable years of human existence, our proposal for the SEEH Bioclimatic School Complex hopes to have a lasting impact, and serve as a constant and positive reference for the adult lives of all who have passed through its gates. It is our belief that sensitive and well-considered architecture can have such an impact, and by doing so establish itself as a worthy vessel of education, social relations, and the diversity of thought that so enriches the multicultural experience. If permanence is not merely a question of the materials you use, but if people love your building, then we strive for an enduring bastion, a new imprint upon the eternal landscape of Crete.

Architects: Atelier3AM
Location: Heraklion, Crete,
Team Leaders: Chris Wong, Taymoore Balbaa
Team: Arne Suraga, Jad Joulji, Talayeh Rad, Andrew Lee, Ibrahim Brad Miles, Antony Chieh, Shelton Foo
Climate Engineering: Transsolar Energietechnik GmbH
Landscape Consultant: Fionn Byrne
Client: School Buildings Organization of Greece
Status: International Competition, 3rd Prize





Cite: Furuto, Alison. "Innovative Bioclimatic European School Third Prize Winning Proposal / Atelier3AM" 13 Jan 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed 28 May 2015. <>