Education Interior Awards: University of Southern Denmark, Campus Kolding

Contract Design Magazine Ι Jan./Feb. 2016

For nearly 25 years, the University of Southern Denmark-Kolding (SDU-Kolding) had been housed in a 100-year-old former hospital. This makeshift solution offered students few amenities and reinforced a commuter campus atmosphere that administrators were anxious to shed. “We had no common space there,” says Per Krogh Hansen, SDU-Kolding’s head of design and communication. “It was either offices or classrooms.”

When plans for a new building began unfolding, Hansen wanted a place that would build a sense of community and, most importantly, encourage conversations and activity to continue once the lecture is over. “We wanted students to engage with learning outside of the classroom,” he says.

The university turned to Copenhagen-based Henning Larsen Architects to design SDU-Kolding’s first purpose-built home—a $47 million, 146,000-square-foot building for nearly 2,800 students. The structure puts informal social meeting areas at its heart: A signature five-story atrium features a wide range of spaces for lounging and studying.

Two contrasting geometries guide the overall design, from the facade to the furnishings. The building’s equilateral triangular form evolved in order to capture views of the nearby city center, harbor, and Kolding River. The triangular theme continues in the articulation of the facade, with 1,600 automated sunscreens that open and close in response to sunlight levels and interior temperature. Similar to tiles in a mosaic, the perforated triangular screens (some in bright neon colors) create varied textures and shadows.

In contrast to the sharply angular exterior, curving geometry is prominent inside. The five-story atrium, filled with soft light diffused by the exterior sunscreens, is bordered by classrooms, meeting spaces, and outdoor terraces, which are covered in green wall plantings and Kebony-fir-treated softwood. “We wanted more of a free and organic approach to smooth it out so it didn’t become too rigid,” says Peter Koch, project manager at Henning Larsen.

The atrium’s balconies, catwalks, and stairs synthesize the strict triangular forms of the exterior with the smooth helical lines of the interior. In plan, each floor plate rotates 60 degrees as the building rises, creating visual variety. “It’s a dynamic atrium in which you have a sense of what’s happening on the next level, and the next level,” Koch says.

On the ground floor, a curvilinear glass-enclosed meeting room accommodates large groups. Students can study together while utilizing furniture custom-designed by Henning Larsen and fabricated by Soroe, including semicircular banquettes and pairings of chairs and tables that offer a sense of enclosure and intimacy in the expansive atrium. Small groups can gather around stylish Ninety red-framed desk lamps by Glamox along the atrium balconies. A semicircular seating plan continues the curvilinear interior theme in the largest lecture hall, which accommodates 250 people and features warm tones with veneered ash plywood and Kerto laminated veneer. The building also houses a cafe, bookstore, and library.

Social spaces are in close proximity to classrooms, thanks to a custom-designed acoustic control system that implements perforated triangular plywood ceiling panels. Hansen says noise from the social spaces does not bleed into the classrooms, and professors leave doors open even when groups of students are studying and talking nearby.

Classes offered in the new building focus on design, communication, management, and entrepreneurship, all of which are fields that require the same types of chance encounters and spontaneous conversations that progressive Silicon Valley workplaces seek to cultivate. With its lively social and study spaces, the new SDU-Kolding offers a wide range of ways to keep students engaged in the life of their school.