Alt architects, Oulu (FI)

The new school building is located in the middle of a block with a road running along its north side, on the site of a demolished secondary school. A large and sunny playground fills the south side. The size of the building serves as a convenient tie-in between the robust 1950s school campus to the southeast and the small local history museum to the northwest. The large mass has been divided into three blocks: the multi-purpose, small-scale outdoor spaces are bordered by a cluster of new structures and playground shelters with storage spaces.

The building’s external architecture is conciliatory, uncomplicated and intentionally ”normal,” with a heightening through the coherence in the details, interior and exterior design and the building as a whole.

The project’s most significant individual characteristic is its load-bearing spruce CLT structure. The structure is directly reflected in the facade: where there is a CLT panel structure, there is solid spruce cladding. The wood has been treated with a colourless protective treatment, and the facades will gradually turn grey at their natural pace. The outer framework of the windows and sills are anodised aluminum in its natural colour. The material palette is sparse, natural and honest, both inside and out.

Wood in all its forms is visible everywhere inside; the fine surface of the CLT panelling has been left in plain sight. The horizontal structures are glue-laminated timber, and they are also visible where possible. Birch plywood surfaces are abundant in the building’s lighter structures, and wood-magnesite panels are used in the ceilings, and solid birch and spruce in the fixtures.

The intermediate floors were the building’s most challenging individual structural component. The construction industry has already produced clever solutions for intermediate floor structures of wooden apartment buildings, for example, but no cost-effective and sensible products are available as of yet for the long spans for public buildings.

The layout of the buildings on the site follows the pattern of a village, and the village feel continues on the interior. The actual classroom spaces are gathered around a central foyer that serves as the village’s “town square.” The building mass is quite deep (and therefore compact), and the foyer in the centre has been kept airy and light. The foyer features a high ceiling with skylights, providing natural light and giving an almost pious atmosphere. The building itself is quiet and peaceful, the energy and colour come with use.

The new curriculum highlights phenomenon-based learning and different learning methods and situations. Kuhmo chose not to take the curriculum to the extreme with an open office-style interpretation; instead, the approach is more restrained. Classes can be combined into larger spaces with movable walls, and small learning spaces are also scattered around. There are no redundant corridors in the building, as even the foyer is dimensioned to be a collection of functional spaces.

The most exceptional functional aspects of the building are found in its multipurpose hall, which serves both as a gymnasium and as a concert hall for the Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival. These purposes are particularly contradictory from the viewpoint of the room’s acoustics: there should not be any echo when used for exercise, but a resonant, ample sound is desirable for a chamber music performance. The concert acoustics were created by styling the interior ceiling and walls with plywood reflectors. When the room is used for exercise, these reflectors are covered with acoustic drapes.


Place: Kuhmo, Finland
Program: Primary school, day-care centre, preschool, concerts and exercise
Schedule: duration of construction: 6/2016–12/2017 construction complete 1/2018
Owner of work / client: Kuhmo municipality 
Architect: Architectural design: alt Architects Ltd, Antti Karsikas 
Principal design: Arkkitehtitoimisto Karsikas Oy, Martti Karsikas
Wood engineering: Suunnittelu Laukka Oy, Heikki Ainasoja
Main enterprise: Rakennusliike Kuoma Oy
Wood Construction Company (s):
CrossLam Oy 
Versowood Oy 
Kuhmon AA-Puu Oy 
Keminmaan Puurakenne Oy 

Area: Volume: 32400 m3 
Floor area: 5410 m2 
Total area: 6165 m2
Construction systems: prefabricated CLT panels, construction under tent
Wood type (s): CLT, gluelam, plywood, wood-magnesite panels, solid birch and spruce

Ville-Pekka Ikola 
Drawings: alt Architects Ltd

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