Just south of Prague, the hillside village of Dolní Jirčany unfolds in a ring of fields and farmhouses that surround a small and unchangingly rustic centre. At the edge of the Bohemian hamlet, however, a recently completed elementary school by Czech designers SOA architekti deftly adapts the region’s agricultural vernacular to create a fresh and vital community hub.
For a small village, it’s a big school. Serving Dolní Jirčany and a cluster of nearby townships, the Amos elementary school also features a continuing education hub, a public library and a community centre, making for an important regional complex.
Taking cues from the intimately scaled surroundings, SOA was careful to integrate the 8,300-square-metre complex into its setting – building on aesthetic cues from neighbouring barns and farmhouses to create a contemporary complement to agricultural vernacular.
From a distance, the Amos complex reads as a loose cluster of four buildings, all defined by simple white walls and pitched metal roofs, on a gently sloped site. In form and layout, the school evokes a sort of pristine farm. At the heart of the campus, however, stands a refined single-storey volume that subtly connects the disparate parts while almost disappearing into the tilled-earth landscape.
Inside this wood-clad edifice, natural wood finishes, generous ceiling heights and abundant daylight make for soothing yet energized spaces. While the same simple material palette defines the whole campus, the architects also used vivid bursts of solid colours to create a strong individual identity for each part of the complex – the whole of it elevated by SOA’s uncommonly elegant play of restraint and boldness.
According to SOA, “the interior is designed as a ‘learning landscape,’ a light-flooded fluid space that creates naturally defined zones of different privacy levels,” which reflect the varied programming. “The building is also used for after-school activities and as a community centre, which is well reflected in the designed quality of common spaces both visual and functional.”
Filled with natural light, the school’s multi-purpose canteen is a standout. The double-height space slides into the school’s entrance foyer (which reinforces the open-circulation scheme), but a partition – shared with the adjacent gym – allows it to be transformed into a more formal venue for performances.
An airy ambiance unifies the campus, but the architects also prioritized thermal efficiency and performance. Designed according to passive house principles, the building is heated by a combination of heat pumps and gas boilers, with the latter used in peak hours to allow optimization of the pumps. Hot water floor heating is also complemented by radiators in the classrooms, while accumulated rain water is harnessed for both irrigation and toilets.
“Air exchange is provided by a pressure-controlled ventilation system with a passive heat recuperation with an efficiency of 77 per cent,” SOA notes. “Ventilation system units are situated [in a decentralized manner] on the roofs and attics of each building, with the intensity of ventilation controlled automatically using the CO2 values in the classrooms.”
Combining an attractive and contextually sensitive aesthetic with a sustainably driven design, the humble Amos school is a quiet, surprising rural showpiece.
The Amos elementary school by SOA architekti is an understated rural showpiece.