Text description provided by the architects. A unique school in a unique location. The St. Nicolaaslyceum forms an integrated part of society, has ambitiously modern views and an open-minded outlook where education is concerned. Sports and culture are the spearheads that make the school stand out. Based on a vision that stimulates education and likes to offer its students a challenge, the design has resulted in a building that offers both security and challenges while supporting the educational concept. There is room for a wide range of cultural expression: the central atrium can be used as a theater with the bleacher stairs, there are exhibition walls and showcases. The concept of sports has been integrated in the building as a whole. Sunken below ground level, the sports accommodation offers extensive sports facilities, while on the outside it is covered with basketball pitches that students can use during their breaks.
The central atrium connects the various spaces and provides ample light and air while making the building easy to understand and navigate. The concept of Discover as you Learn is made visible in the building by the large diversity of working and teaching environments, the visibility of the supporting structure and systems, and by an interactive panel that visualises the school’s sustainability level.
The new building of the St. Nicolaaslyceum is located along the Amsterdam South Axis, where the Beethoven District meets the Beatrix Park. Its outside areas make the school into an inseparable part of its surroundings. The central atrium is oriented towards the park and the public square, two directions that converge in the atrium to convey a sense of space. External spaces fan out through the building and can become playing field, urban balcony, trial garden or roof terrace for outdoor experiments. The sports hall has been turned around to create a gradual entrance route from the Beethovenstraat. The large expanse of steps provides seating to make the space suitable for performances. The dark grey tone of the building’s plinth blends in with the outdoor space. The pale green stripes of the educational level above it feature a soft relief that echoes the willows in the park. The rounded corners and the gradual transitions between internal and external spaces give the building a soft and welcoming look. The Mirror Tree by artist Anouk Vogel on the large glass facade almost literally pulls the park into the atrium and across to the more urbanised south side.
Giving shape to an educational concept
The central atrium rises through five floors to form the heart of the St. Nicolaaslyceum. This is where everybody enters the building, where students have their break on the bleachers, where theatre productions are staged, and from where students and teachers fan out into the rest of the school building. Rising from the oak bleacher steps, the central staircase spirals upwards around the grand lobby like an aubergine carpet. Each of the floors offers a view of the central lobby, making it a perfect point of reference as well as creating a sense of intimacy and security inside the compact building. On the upper floors, the classrooms are arranged on the outside, surrounding multifunctional open areas. At the top of the bleacher stairs, the multimedia centre sits below the mezzanine space that stretches upwards to the atrium roof on the park side to the north. The interior elements for the restaurant, the staff room and the multimedia centre were designed in close consultation with the school’s students and staff.
The St. Nicolaaslyceum is designed with a high target level of sustainability on mind. The all-in design approach to architecture, functionality, supporting structure, systems and building physics has resulted in a highly compact, sustainable, flexible and optimised educational facility. A compact building, optimised use of available daylight, overhangs and sun blinds in the east, south and west facades, daylight-controlled high-frequency lighting, and naturally durable materials are all low-tech applications that have been integrated into the overall design. More technologically involved solutions such as underground heat and cold buffering in combination with an active concrete core in the floors, a balanced and carbon dioxide-controlled ventilation system with heat recovery (and a very high efficiency of 90%) as well as photovoltaic roof panels contribute to make this a highly sustainable low-energy building. What’s more, this sustainability is visualised by means of an ‘energy mirror’ to show the students what the actual effects are.