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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Østfold University College, Halden, Norway

New outlook for landmark University building in Norway

Completed in 2006, the HiØ is a building of national and regional importance. Situated between Oslo and Sweden this University building is a melting pot for many cultures and people. The challenge was to refurbish the existing complex, originally completed in the 70s, modernising it to suit the College's current and future needs, whilst adding to it new functions and spaces that would complement the existing.

The key notion of the architectural strategy is the location's natural features and the use of a limited material palette. The project is situated in an old rural landscape and special attention is paid to integrate it into its surroundings. The design is based on simple geometrical prisms, lines and slabs composed into a complex lay-out of rooms and functions. More than 900 rooms are organized around common spaces, small "forums" or "agoras", reminders of what a University life is all about. Informal meeting spaces, debating arenas, and areas of personal exploration punctuate all the buildings.

Hovering over all the other buildings, tracing the east-west natural ridge between two forests, is a long wood-clad volume which houses the new study rooms and office spaces. This structure is the articulating element and the spine of the whole complex. Where this block intersects the new Library, it opens up in a series of dynamic spaces. Boxes hang from the ceiling defying the laws of physics, light pours in from sky lights and from the continuous glazed façade inviting one out onto the Library’s roof terrace.

The careful choice of materials enhances the experience of this building. Concrete and glass are counterbalanced with colour and softer / warmer materials, such as wood and brick. They blend new and old together creating a unique feeling of accord and defiance, an ideal environment for learning and personal development. The double and triple height spaces created through the main buildings are changed, their volumes sculpted, shaped by the changing light conditions during the dramatically diverse Norwegian seasons. The glazed façade and multiple openings are not however a detriment to the buildings energy efficiency. In fact they reduce the need for artificial light by bringing light deep into the complex. Furthermore, by the use of mass and a structured planning strategy, the building is able to keep its internal temperature fairly constant all year long with limited heating / cooling costs for a building of this size.
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