The AP Møller School in Schleswig, northern Germany, is luring design aficionados with its groundbreaking architecture. School has never been so cool, or soft power so clever.
You know a building has become a landmark when everybody knows it by name. But this is no museum or theatre – it’s a school. AP Møller is tucked away on the outskirts of pretty Schleswig, a town in northern Germany surrounded by fields and the shimmering waters of Schlei fjord. It’s been open for a year and has been drawing the crowds thanks to its stand-out architecture. So far around 27,000 people have visited and it’s not hard to see why. With its graceful silhouette, transparent design and use of natural materials, this building is a masterclass in Danish simplicity and elegance.
The private secondary school was built specifically for the Danish minority living in this part of Germany (the Danes have been in Southern Schleswig on the Jutland Peninsula, bordering Denmark for centuries). It was a gift from the AP Møller and Chastine Mc-Kinney Møller Foundation, which was founded in 1953 by shipping and energy giant Maersk to promote Danish culture and heritage. The architects of the school, CF Møller, coincidentally share the same name (see Issue 21 for our story on the firm’s Akershus University Hospital).
The total cost of the school remains confidential but its clear the budget was generous: furnishings, fittings and finishes are of the highest quality. Walls are crafted from Indian granite, grand slabs of Danish granite sourced from Bornholm island, smooth maple wood and Danish bricks. There are no ugly floors – hardwearing blocks of oak are laid to create a delicate pattern.
“We believe that a good-quality environment is something that will inspire,” explains Julian Weyer, project architect and partner at CF Møller. The school is intended “to be a model of Danish design, a way to promote Danish ideas in the area.”
When Monocle dropped in, school was almost out for summer. Students seemed excited, yet it was oddly quiet. That’s because engineers Arup were hired to consult on the acoustics. “A bad acoustic environment will kill the whole teaching experience,” says Weyer.
The building’s main feature is a central atrium. It’s an impressive soaring space, softly lit with skylights. Hanging high is a light installation of the solar system by the artist Olafur Eliasson. It’s a brilliant and dramatic touch – all schools deserve artwork. There’s a neat canteen with minimal sets of tables and chairs, and workstations scattered around for breakout study. Communal stairways (which double as an amphitheatre for school plays and assemblies) lead up to a central library, referred to as the knowledge centre. After hours, the gym and state-of-art concert hall is used for shows, conferences and other cultural events.
We take our tour with headmaster Jørgen Kühl, a softly spoken academic poached from his job as director of border region studies at the University of Southern Denmark to run AP Møller. “It’s so transparent everywhere,” he says, pointing out classes taking place. “You can see what’s going on and it adds a certain atmosphere to the whole building because there’s nothing hidden away.” This is thanks to strategically placed glass walls, balconies, windows, public workspaces and classrooms. There’s not a dimly lit cramped corridor in sight. During lunch-break kids relax on sleek Arne Jacobsen chairs and sofas (teachers have the iconic Fritz Hansen models in the staff room). Everything is immaculate and there are no traces of vandalism. “The students take care of the school, they are proud. It’s part of our ambition that all the students become shareholders and identify with the institution,” he explains.
Both students and teachers take advantage of the school’s open and flexible layout. Outside in the afternoon sun, classes take place on bespoke furniture. With no fence around the playground, the space becomes a public park with locals free to use the skate-ramp, climbing wall, courts, pitches and benches. Investing in quality of design and an imaginative, considered blueprint will reap dividends. Cutting corners means potentially cutting back on the school experience. Ultimately a school should become a retreat, a calm environment setting a benchmark for future experiences. AP Møller shows how.
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