Gently Sitting in Its Place
The new extension wing brings together the staff of the Kajaani Upper Secondary School and Kainuu Vocational College.
How does the extension of upper secondary school and vocational college relate to its immediate surroundings and the existing building, architect VILLE-PEKKA IKOLA?
The teaching activities of the vocational college were integrated into the spaces of the upper secondary school and due to these changes in the spaces, new staff workspaces and break rooms were needed. The new part was designed to replace the demolished wing along Vuorikatu street – the place where the centre of Kajaani transforms into a low-rise housing area. In addition to the surroundings, the exterior form of the extension was determined by the many phases of the existing building complex, which was previously a business school, and the shape and height of the preserved auditorium.
We also regarded the courtyard as important, so the extension was given two distinct faces. Towards the courtyard it seemed natural to have regular fenestration and a massing that complements the outdoor space, while on the Vuorikatu street side, our aim was to make a wooden building with a distinctly public character, albeit adapted to the scale of the surrounding residential buildings. The building consciously leaves some free space in the direction of street so as to maintain the importance of the auditorium in the composition.
What kind of work environment have you strived to create in the staff workspaces of the extension?
Our objective was to create an aesthetically and acoustically comfortable work environment, which would also look timeless. The consistent use of natural light and natural materials gave the spaces a sufficient calmness and character to withstand the fixtures inevitably associated with the work environment. Functionally, we approached the task by dividing the room programme into three zones – student services, workspaces and break rooms – the location of which was determined by their use and degree of publicness.
We approached the design of the workspaces specifically from the users’ viewpoint, as the project brought together upper secondary school and vocational school staff, and the change was considerable. It was important for them that the building would house a suitably-sized team with a shared culture, which led to the idea of grouping the fixed workstations in units the size of the teaching subject groups operating in the building. In addition, there was a need for an area suitable for joint work or short-term use and a sufficient number of quiet spaces for confidential discussions with, for instance, students and families.
What kind of technical solutions did the solid wood frame structure require? How is wood highlighted as a material in the facades and interiors?
Architecturally, solid wood is a rewarding raw design material, as it naturally creates for the interior a strong material sense, and precise prefabrication opens new possibilities for detail design and building component joints. In the interior, we have left the wood surfaces exposed because of their psychological and aesthetic properties. Waxed wood also helps in balancing the indoor humidity, creating pleasant indoor conditions together with the natural light. The design of the CLT frame itself is not hugely complex, but its characteristic features, such as moderate spans as well as its acoustical and flammability properties, differ from concrete and need to be identified and addressed together with specialist designers.
Alt Architects has previously designed, for example, the Tuupala primary school in Kuhmo, also built from solid wood. Was that experience useful in the planning of the present extension?
We most certainly benefited from the technical information obtained from the Tuupala project. The successful project encouraged us to apply the solid wood frame in a public building. In Kajaani, there was a desire to promote wood construction, but there is little experience of solid wood construction among the officials. In addition, the original building, with its concrete frames and plastered facades, at first seemed ill-suited as a site for wood construction, but we nevertheless wanted to take on the challenge.
What other sustainable construction solutions did you utilise in the project?
In addition to the nearby-felled and renewable carbon pool, I see the physical and architectural properties of the solid building frame as being the most significant, which will hopefully give the building a long lifecycle. The moderate amount of construction was also a conscious decision; the total area and volume of the building was significantly reduced with the new, smaller wing, and the renovation made the use of the entire building more efficient. Various technical solutions have also been used, such as a geothermal system for heating and cooling. ↙