Bioclimatic European School Complex, Crete GR

“nature … holds attention taxlessly and calms the mind and recharges us in effect so we can work more effectively.” Frederick Law Olmstead, in 1865

Bioclimatic European School Complex, Crete, Greece

(International Architectural Competition 2012)

The fundamental mission of a school is not only to provide a sensible environment for learning but moreover to produce a space which is in it’s very nature a form of education. This school is a school that addresses architectural space as the very generator of the educational process. Social and contemplative environments are woven into a spatial organization that interlocks with pockets of nature space that we define as ‘the living classroom’.

We have combined the four school programs – kindergarten, primary, secondary and administration – in one building, motivated by the belief that, while the specific functions of each program remain contained within their own distinct units, there are multiple benefits in housing them in one building.

A unified building will not only reinforce a sense of identity for the ENISA schools, but will also encourage a sense of community for the students, and an understanding of education and community as continually and mutually supportive.  Children will be nurtured and educated within their own distinctly appropriate environments and, through a heightened awareness of the other programs, will have a sense of their position within the larger school and the phases of their personal growth – where they have come from and where they are going, how they have grown and how much they will continue to grow.

This invites a spatial strategy that manifests as a weave, within which the different elements of accommodation and the circulation are bound together in a spatial mesh.The essence of this logic is encapsulated by the interweaving of a series of courtyards, which form the over-riding identity of the building. Binding both horizontally and vertically, they fuse the diverse programs. While they remain physically distinct from each other, multiple visual connections tie them together.

By bringing the outside to the inside, these bio-climatic exterior spaces also fuse the interior and exterior environments, forming critical connections that firmly push the interior towards its goal of losing dependence on man-made environmental controls . They also constitute what we call Living Classrooms, by offering multiple broad reaching learning opportunities.


The building is organized on two academic and administrative levels, Upper and Lower, plus a small basement.  The entire secondary school occupies the upper floor. The entrance to both the Primary and Secondary schools is reached through a vehicular drop-off zone on the upper level. The Primary School, the central administration and the Kindergarten are located on the lower floor, with security controlled, access points between the central administrative areas and the two schools.The basement houses storage and mechanical spaces.

The building follows the natural slope of the site, stepping down from the south to the north, thus minimizing cut and fill requirements. In the interior, gentle ramps are integrated into the interior landscape.  The roof also follows this slope from south to north, and allows for greater access to daylight on the north facing glazing of the courtyards.

There are two main entrances to the site, one on the South at the upper floor level, the other on the North at the lower floor level.  The South entrance is intended for the secondary and primary schools, the former entering at the driveway level, and the latter via a grand staircase from the drop-off (and elevator for disable users). The kindergarten school and central administration users enter at separate locations on the East.

DATA: International Architectural Competition / Location: Crete, Greece / Program: European School, Kindergarten, Primary and Secondary School / Area: 2,700 sq.m. / Credits: Lonn Combs, Rona Easton / Visualizations: Avoid Obvious (