The first Open-Air School, or the "Eerste Openluchtschool"

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Mon Nov 01, 2021

The open-air school concept was a result of the rising air-borne diseases like tuberculosis since the advent of the Industrial Revolution. This concept of school was usually applied to children who were suffering from the air-borne diseases or other health issues which could be helped by clean air.

The main reason for such schools to be erected was to help physically unfit children gain strength, aided by sun and fresh air.

Johannes Duiker was commissioned with one such school in the year 1927 in Amsterdam South. He was greatly influenced by the ideas of Frank Lloyd Wright and his Prairie Style of architecture.

The commission that Duiker received was for an open air school for healthy children. The site sits inside the inner court of a perimeter block, which according to me was a wise selection as Amsterdam is famous for its harsh weather and winds. The enclosure around the site largely impacted the wind flow of the site.

At the time, it was a new but increasingly popular idea that the physical training of a child is equally as important as their mental or classroom training. Duiker arranged the classrooms in such a way that two classrooms on the first level had a shared balcony space, which was in turn used as a classroom. These open-air shared balcony spaces were accessible for many months of the year during both good and bad weather conditions, since it was covered and protected from winds and all but the worst of rains.

The school consists of a square classroom block in four levels placed diagonally on the site. This basic square is subdivided into four quadrants around a diagonal central staircase. East and west quadrants each contain one classroom per story and share an open-air classroom on the south side. The north quadrant occupies the ground floor only and comprises a staffroom. Also on the ground floor are a classroom in the west quadrant, the main entrance below the open-air classrooms and an oblong gymnasium, sunken to accommodate its extra height and half tucked in under the classroom block.

For the construction material, Duiker used reinforced concrete skeleton with cantilevers in some parts reticulated with jacenas or girder supports. The architect used heating pipes moving through the concrete floor slab to act as an insulation so that the windows could be kept open during the winters.

The windows were made up of combination of metal frames and glass. The orientation, planning and construction methods were so minimal that it was considered to be the advent of the Dutch Modern Movement which somewhere relates to the infusion of Modernism as a whole.

On diving deep into the above structure, I realized that these kinds of problems have been already dealt with in the past and we must learn from it to tackle the current scenario around the world.

Open-air schools are incredibly relevant to education during the COVID-19 pandemic. My personal thought is that we should adapt the concept of open-air schools so that places where education is still taking place remotely or via offline methods can easily take place in person, which would not only help to protect the health of each and every student but also improve the social interaction among them so that they transform holistically as a better future generation.

 

 

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2021 - Fall - Issue 8
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