School as Civic Hub

Prague’s LOŠBATES School Competition


First prize entry © Pelletier de Fontenay / Valerio Sartori (image courtesy CCEA MOBA)


Sponsored by LOŠBATES, an administrative entity established by four adjacent municipalities on the outskirts of Prague, this competition for a primary and secondary school, won by the Canadian firm, Pelletier de Fontenay with Valerio Sartori from Switzerland, drew 108 entries from 38 countries. The project brief asked for a school of more than 400 students, as well as many shared facilities for the residents of the surrounding communities—an important response to the clear lack of collective facilities in those communities. The stated intention was that the school’s gymnasium, sports complex, auditorium, multi-functional hall and art school, will all be shared by students and the area’s residents, creating a new civic hub for the community.


According to the winner’s narrative, “the project aims to create a new heart and symbol for the communities of LOŠBATES. The school is conceived as an open cloister, an articulated ring connecting four separate program clusters into one coherent form surrounding a small forest. This cloister is flexible both visually and functionally. It serves as an entrance, a corridor, a covered outdoor area, a gathering space, an informal classroom and much more. Unlike the traditional cloister, it’s open ended and permeable.


The ring frames a central courtyard, a quadrangle. But unlike the traditional quadrangle usually left open and free, this courtyard is filled with tall trees, a captured fragment of the forest nearby. By making this central courtyard intentionally very large, the boundary between figure and ground is blurred. Allowing the landscape to merge with the school at such a scale results in a porous cluster of pavilions rather than a centralized building surrounded by landscape. Thus, the silhouette becomes softer and friendlier, and less monolithic. This provides a blissful sense of extensiveness and openness, but moreover, the horizontal open character allows for every function and classroom to have abundant direct access to natural light and views of the surrounding landscape.”


Based on the jury’s choices for the two top-ranked winners, one has to assume that the presence of the interior courtyard as a symbolic extension of the exterior landscape did not go unnoticed. There were a number of entries that occupied the entire site with the different functions, sometimes separated from each other, and almost providing a village-like atmosphere, as epitomized by the honorable mention entry from Poland. But the logical connectivity exhibited by the winner, integrating the functions in such a manner as to maintain circulation without disruption, surely was a determining factor in the adjudication process. How to add space for an addition was also an important issue for the jury; but the winner’s stacking solution did not dissuade them from honoring the Montreal firm’s general concept.


The administration of the competition by the CCEA (Center for Central European Architecture) was notable in various respects: not only was it open to international participation, but the final announcement included detailed jury remarks about the winners. Also, all of the entries were posted on the professional adviser’s website:


The eight-person jury consisted mainly of Czech architects, with only one exception, Dorte Kristensen of the Netherlands, who teaches at the Delft School of Architecture and has been with the firm Atelier PRO based in The Haag.


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Russian Open Competition for Alternative Layout Design in Standard Housing

1st category prize entry by AKVS (Image courtesy STRELKA-KB, © AKVS Architecture)



Of all the nations that had been part of the Soviet Bloc after World War II, only the Russian Federation itself has lagged behind most of its neighbors in the design and construction of affordable housing. During that post-Cold War period, housing construction in cities such as Moscow struggled to keep up with demand. The result of this has been some of the most crowded urban conditions in Europe. Privacy has been an issue, whereby more than one family has oftentimes occupied a small apartment, possibly only separated by a curtain. Thus, in this housing competition, where the focus was primarily on layout design, it was not unusual to see how the various competitors addressed this issue.



According to the competition brief, the aim of the competition was “to create comfortable living environments for Russian citizens. It challenged contestants to design planning layouts for five apartments of a medium size and five apartments of a large size, for three out of four proposed building types.”


Image courtesy STRELKA-KB


Here it is worth noting that the anticipated size of a studio apartment for the purposes of this competition was between 225-270 sq ft, whereas the average studio (one-room) apartment in the U.S. is between 500-600 sq ft. Thus, all of the other models were also smaller than one would find in the West. But everything being relative, apartments based on these models would be a marked improvement in many respects for the average Russian consumer.


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