Turin-based architectural firm BDR Bureau completed the transformation of the new Enrico Fermi School in Turin, Italy in 2019. As the school becomes an integral part of the community and merges with the urban fabric, the design incorporates the new educational needs and represents a possible future for education and architecture.
The existing school building, built in the 1960s in the Nizza Millefonti district between the former industrial area of Lingotto and the Po River in the south-east of Turin, has been extended and its functions rethought. This project was the winner of an international competition launched in 2016 by Torino Fa Scuola. The initiative, promoted by the Compagnia di San Paolo and the Fondazione Agnelli, in collaboration with the City of Turin and Fondazione per la Scuola, embodies a cultural, pedagogical, and architectural reflection on new learning spaces.
© Simone Bossi
The Fermi School, a middle school, opens up to the urban sphere through the reorganization of its entrances and its external spaces. The back of the existing building becomes the new main entrance, shaping a green space. It unfolds to the neighborhood and emphasizes the concept of a community school. The ground floor is an extension of the public space: integrating a series of services open to everyone, such as the gym, the library, the auditorium, and the cafeteria.
“We wanted a project that is able to dialogue with the existing building and revolutionize its function at the same time. New spatial elements, transparencies, and additions reinterpret the original structure to open the school to the city.”– Alberto Bottero and Simona Della Rocca, architects
BDR bureau mainly operates through addition: a new steel structure creates an inhabited envelope where the terraces are an integral part of the teaching program and embrace new connective spaces. It works as a passive shield. The modularity of the new frame outlines a thread-like backbone which is completed by a metal net that highlights the visual permeability and a relationship to the outside.
The façades of the new front and those facing towards the courtyards maintain large windows that enhance the relation between the different volumes and the outdoor spaces, bringing new meaning to the original layout.
The frame’s compositional scheme is also repeated in the old building, whose façades are treated with a multigrain plaster creating variations in depth. The façades of the new front and those facing towards the courtyards maintain large windows that enhance the relationship between the different volumes and the outdoor spaces, bringing new meaning to the original layout. The ground floor is designed as a civic center, where the different functions are gathered in the atrium and directly connected with the garden and the two entrances. The atrium stretches to the upper floors thanks to a vertical element: a stairwell that evokes the external architectural language. The flexible library and auditorium space, the cafeteria, and the gym complete the public spaces on the ground floor.
On the two upper floors, the atrium accommodates recreational and collective spaces, while the educational activities are organized in clusters—spatial units composed of classrooms, cloakrooms, services, and informal learning spaces. The classrooms become the meeting point and the linkage between inside and outside, retaining a visual connection to the common space and giving access to the terraces. Just like in the experimental en plein air schools, educational and recreational activities take place outdoors. In these open spaces, the green areas and the dialog with the surrounding landscape encourage students and professors to meet and exchange ideas in their daily activities.
© Simone Bossi
The planning project shared with the community carries an explicit and higher ambition as well: to set the standard by building a school in both the pedagogical and educational sense. At the same time, the innovation of the school structure and the inclusion of new architectural and spatial elements make the Fermi School by BDR bureau a case study, a replicable model for the requalification of the school building heritage.
DATE: 2017 (competition) 2018-2019 (construction) / LOCATION: via Biglieri 19, Turin, Italy / AREA: 5.096 m2 (built) / PROGRAM: middle school with library, auditorium, cafeteria, gym, classrooms and public spaces / STATUS: built / DESIGN: BDR bureau / CONSTRUCTION: Sintecna srl / PROJECT MANAGER: FCA Partecipazioni S.p.A / CONSULTANTS: Sintecna srl (Structural and executive planning), Proeco ss (Mechanics and electrical advisor), Onleco srl (Sustainability and acoustics advisor), BDR bureau (Furniture design) / PHOTOS: Simone Bossi