The Municipality of Bütschwil-Ganterschwil lies in the heart of Switzerland’s Toggenburg region. Once known for its textile industry, today its rural villages, close to Wil and St. Gallen, attract a constant stream of new residents, the youngest of whom require an increasing amount of school space. To meet this demand, an extension to Bütschwil Primary School was completed in 2021.
Presenting a timeless wooden facade to the existing school, this two-storey new build, slightly set back from Mittendorfstrasse, blends effortlessly into the complex, one long side following the line of the street like the old sports hall. The access route on the southern side of the school has been continued in terms of both orientation and materiality. Paving sets guide pupils from the spacious playground across the road to the new forecourt of the wooden-clad school building. As well as keeping distances short, the paving acts as a traffic-calming measure on the street and links the new stand-alone structure to the rest of the school.
The clever positioning of the building and its four gently projecting volumes creates a number of different outdoor spaces: to the east, a play area protected from the street; to the south-west a small forecourt for visitors, waiting and play. The dimensions of this space have been kept intentionally small to accentuate the main entrance via the old school building. To the north-west of the new building, generous staff parking is easily accessible from all parts of the school.
Visitors large and small enter the building through a gate-like opening in the new wooden facade at the end of the connecting footpath, the simple form of the compact hybrid construction taking shape as they approach. The building is clad on all sides in a gentle rhythmical pattern of vertical wooden slats, the use of finer strips marking the transition from ground to upper floor. The facade opening on the ground floor leads to an outdoor space that provides shelter from wind, rain and sun during break times and doubles up as a light and airy classroom. Open sitting niches offer popular spots for observation and retreat, ensuring that the time before the pupils enter the building is characterised by quiet reflection as much as the chattering exchanges and hurly burly that precede the school day.
The children pass from the covered outdoor space through a large glass door into a double-storey foyer area. Before them rises an open staircase with attractive, noise-reducing banisters made of perforated bronze-coloured acoustic panels. The stairwell is surrounded by spacious corridors that lead into the eight rooms used by the children. A skylight above the stairs provides the central space with ambient light. The foyer with its two cloakroom areas is finished in fair-faced concrete with continuous skirting and a mix of wooden and glazed wooden doors. The latter offer views into the timber-lined classrooms that are arranged at the corners of the building on both floors. These ‘wooden chambers’ seem to literally plug into the building’s solid concrete core.
The fan-like arrangement of the functionally neutral main rooms and the resulting division of the building into four separate volumes create a cloverleaf floor plan. The leaves themselves, slightly offset outwards, look out and let in light on two sides and provide the opportunity for natural transverse ventilation, obviating the need for a controlled ventilation system. Low-level window sills at the large openings invite even the smallest children to observe their surroundings and can also be used for painting and other craft activities. The large, mature trees have been carefully incorporated into the new architecture and provide valuable shade. The classrooms are completely clad in Swiss pine with ash floors. The omnipresence of wood is broken only by the windows, which offer views of both the outside and into the building, revealing the arrival of classmates.
At the interface between interior and exterior, where the hard building core meets the soft, warm school rooms, Bütschwil Primary School offers spatial variety and has a naturally untroubled air that offers inspiration and encouragement to its young pupils.