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Award-winning architecture creates an ideal, daylit learning environment

Hessenwaldschule is a cooperative school in Weiterstadt, Germany, home to 700 pupils from the surrounding area. With a focus on individual learning and support in a flexible, open environment, the school makes use of the latest pedagogical techniques to create the best possible educational programme for its students.

The challenge: a design-led building for student-focussed learning
When it was decided to replace the Hessenwaldschule’s old building, Stuttgart-based architectural firm wulf architekten were challenged to come up with a design that would achieve three principle objectives:  

  • to support the school’s open approach to teaching;
  • to provide top-class energy performance and sustainability credentials;
  • to be both inspirational and contemporary in design, while fitting perfectly into the school’s beautiful natural surroundings.

The solution: shared open spaces built around daylight
Openness and transparency are key to Hessenwaldschule’s teaching approach, so an open design is at the very heart of this building.

A large, central atrium connects three rectangular pavilions, or “Lernhäusern” (learning houses), which are home to different school departments and educational levels. This open layout allows students to switch easily between levels depending on their performance and ability. The three-storey atrium is an open space which is flooded with natural daylight and fresh air from the roof. Here, students of different ages, levels and departments are encouraged to come together to share their time and experiences.

Daylight and fresh air are delivered to the atrium via six longlights comprising a total of 84 VELUX Modular Skylights. wulf architekten decided to use VELUX Modular Skylights primarily due to their unique design. Despite their low profile, all mechanical elements are contained within the frames, creating a beautiful uniform finish when they are placed together – “heaven stripes” as Hessenwald architect Alexander Vohl calls them. Then there is the speed and ease of installation. All 84 modules were fully installed in just 4 days, closing the building for subsequent tasks.


“We’ve got an ideal climate here. It’s a climate, primarily, where you feel good, the architecture is great and the amount of light is fantastic. And so is the temperature. We work very well here. When you say that it’s very important for teachers and students to work well with each other, it’s true. But the basics must be there – the room must be there. It’s not just an indoor climate; it’s a learning climate.”

Marcus Bürger, Principal, Hessenwaldschule

The result: award-winning architecture and happy kids

Even when it is overcast outside the VELUX Modular Skylights provide plenty of even, diffuse natural light. Daylight is not just about aesthetics either. Today, children spend up to 90% of their time indoors, and studies have shown that optimal daylight and ventilation conditions indoors can boost children’s learning abilities by up to 15%.

The school meets passive house standards and the skylights form an integral part of the building’s overall energy performance. The VELUX Modular Skylights create solar gain in the winter, warming the air in the atrium, and subsequently the pavilions. In the summer, meanwhile, some of the skylight modules can be opened to allow warm, stale air to escape and cool, fresh air to enter.

Completed in 2016, the school has received a host of architectural awards, including the “Fritz-Höger-Preis für Backsteinarchitektur” (prize for excellence in brick architecture), the Hesse Chamber of Architecture Award and the Architizer Award. What is special about the concept is the architecturally modern yet extremely sensitive approach to the needs of the students. With Hessenwaldschule, wulf Architekten have managed to demonstrate that the requirements of progressive forms of learning can be combined with the demands of cutting-edge modern architecture. The resulting school complex is outstanding, and the entire school community of students, parents and teachers are hugely positive and excited about their new school.

“The best thing that you can do to make people feel healthy is to use the right materials and lots of light to create good spaces.”

Alexander Vohl, Partner at wulf architekten

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