Project: Opinmäki School and Kindergarten
Architectural and interior design: Esa Ruskeepää Architects Ltd
Project Architect: Sasu Marila
Acoustic design: Helimaki Acoustics
Photographer: Kari Palsila
Production year: 2015
Opinmäki is a modern learning centre that was built in the Suurpelto district of Espoo, in southern Finland, in 2015. The facilities have been designed to encourage pupils to engage in communication-based work and collaborative learning. The vast open spaces required high-quality acoustic planning.
Shared facilities for the whole community
Opinmäki is a multipurpose centre for all citizens in the Suurpelto district. In addition to the children going to the Opinmäki schools and day-care centre, the facilities are open to local clubs and organisations.
Pekka Vikkula, manager of the Suurpelto project, considers Opinmäki to be more like a cultural centre than a traditional school building.
“Before starting the actual architectural design process, we brainstormed ideas for the campus with various user groups. The Education Unit of the City of Espoo contributed with pedagogical expertise and expressed certain wishes regarding the facilities used for new ways of teaching and learning,” Vikkula says.
Multi purpose facilities
The facilities serve multiple purposes. The canteen and auditorium are connected by a large door covered with black, durable acoustic panels. By opening the door, a large stage can be built between the two rooms. Craft rooms and art education facilities can be rented by clubs and organisations for meetings and recreational use after the schoolchildren have headed home.
The large entrance hall is a multifaceted and asymmetrical space with many hard surfaces, connecting the various activities taking place on the campus. To prevent the unpleasant noise of sound bouncing off structures, the walls in the space have been placed at different angles. The ceiling in the entrance hall is made of wire mesh, and wool panels have been installed above the technology elements.
The hallway also has acoustic wall surfaces that have been finished with an acoustic plaster. This solution has further improved the absorption of sound in the unconventional space.
New teaching methods require adjustable facilities
At Opinmäki, teaching is based on the pedagogical principles of team teaching and co-teaching. Teaching and learning facilities can be connected and separated with movable walls. The convertible spaces support multimodal learning and the formation of different kinds of groups in different subjects.
All classroom furniture is movable. Because they are on wheels, chairs and desks can easily be moved around without making noise. Carpeted floors also reduce the rattling sound of furniture, and the acoustic ceiling tiles efficiently dampen the general background noise.
One of the key aims of good acoustics is to encourage interaction. Signs of poor acoustics include difficulties in concentrating, fatigue and stress. The teaching and learning facilities at Opinmäki were designed based on an acoustic plan, which defined the different acoustic requirements for each space and included related technical instructions.
Good acoustics create a comfortable learning environment
Good acoustics are a priority in ensuring that facilities support the well-being and comfort of both teachers and pupils. This means that sound needs to be carried and absorbed sufficiently.
Anne-Marie Rapo, principal of the Espoo International School, is pleased with the spacious and well-light facilities.
“Everyone suffers from poor acoustics. The new facilities enable the use of a wide range of study methods, encourage new ways of learning and support our pedagogical approach,” Rapo says.
At Opinmäki, the teaching facilities are very different from traditional classrooms, and the campus has plenty of open hall spaces that can be converted into classrooms. The purpose of the open spaces is to encourage communication-based working methods, discussions and innovation.
“The facilities at Opinmäki are absolutely amazing. There is light flooding in from all directions and many glass surfaces. The environment is diverse and hopefully encourages teachers to experiment and cooperate.”
Anne-Marie Rapo, principal of the Espoo International School
Acoustic solutions for open spaces
When a room has only a few or no fixed walls, optimising acoustics is an architectural challenge. At Opinmäki, glass is widely used to create a spacious feel and provide light, but it also insulates sound.
In traditional classrooms, acoustic planning is based on the relationship between sound absorption and reflection. A certain amount of absorbers are placed in the ceiling, and a speech reflecting surface is installed in the middle of the room. In that way, the speaker’s voice carries further and is better reflected from the front to the back of the room.
This solution did not work at Opinmäki because, in the novel educational spaces, the teacher’s position and direction of speech are no longer as clear. The classrooms were designed to function in all directions by adding enough sound-absorbing acoustic materials all over the ceilings.
The design office Helimaki Acoustics was involved in designing the sound insulation structures and the acoustics for the rooms from the start.
“Whenever you build something new and unconventional, it is good to have an acoustician involved in the design process,” says Project Architect Sasu Marila from Esa Ruskeepää Architects.
Why are good acoustics important in classrooms?
• A comfortable environment calms pupils down and helps them to concentrate.
• An optimal sound environment supports interaction and cooperation.
• It improves teachers’ and pupils’ well-being and performance.