The district of Sterrenburg is located on the south side of Dordrecht and was largely built during the 1960s and 1970s. It is a sizable district with 21,000 residents and a generous share of parks, gardens and other green areas; it is also very close to the historical natural conservancy areas on the ‘Island’ of Dordrecht. The new building for KIEM will be built on the northern edge of the area on the De Sitterstraat. The school’s joint name covers five separate branches of education, care and medical science. De Vlij is a ‘Mytyl’ school for children with a physical disability or multiple disabilities, the Blije Gaarde, a school for children with serious learning issues and the Dordtse Buitenschool for children with long-term illnesses. These schools all collaborate in their new premises with the care support body Gemiva-SVG Group and the Rijndam revalidation centre. The fact that these different institutions are housed in the same premises has many positive features. It means that KIEM is relevant for children right from birth and that they are under constant supervision by the different professional fields. Students can for instance have physiotherapy during school hours, while play areas, the mediatheque and other practical training studios can also be used for preschool and after-school activities. KIEM is intended as a safe, friendly and welcoming home where children can learn and play, meet each other, convalesce and develop.
‘Human scalen and security’ – this is the key concept in Mecanoo’s design for KIEM. By splitting the building up into a family of little brick houses it reflects the typical saddleback roofs in the vicinity of the school. The ‘Onderbouwhuis’ [junior classes], ‘Bovenbouwhuis’ [senior classes], ‘Sporthuis’ and ‘Kinderrevalidatiehuis’ [children revalidation house] all have their own individual colour of brick making them easily recognizable for the children. Classifying things at a cognitive level means that the child’s handicap plays no role in the composition of the group. As fits the school’s philosophy, the children in the ZMLK [severe learning problems], Mytyl and LZ [long-term illnesses] sections learn from and support each other. They feel safe and at home in their ‘own houses’. Transparent glass zones with the canteen, mediatheque and covered play area link up the different houses. Mecanoo aimed for quality and visual simplicity in the building’s finish. Gutters and window frames are concealed. The brown, orange and pale yellow bricks are made in traditional fashion. Sedum roofs not only give the school a green atmosphere; they also have a positive impact on the biodiversity and water management of the structures.
To give the children a warm and comfortable home, all of the walls, floors and ceilings of the school are made of wood. This layered wood is not only extremely sustainable and CO2-neutral, but also has a damp-regulating function, good insulating properties and sufficient volume to provide thermal storage – making it highly effective in managing the indoor climate. The wood creates a warm atmosphere in the school, providing a pleasing, calm study environment without any distracting stimuli. It is so beautiful that it also acts as the interior finish. Reception areas, stairs, banisters, cupboards and open shelving, shutters and doors are all implemented in this solid wood. KIEM is a bright and airy school with a decentralized air conditioning system. A good fresh air supply and acoustics and plenty of daylight make for a fresh well-lit school building where the pupils can concentrate but where there is also room for play and movement.