The new college, which was commissioned by Live Foundation previously known as Invalidisäätiö, is a modern upper secondary level education facility in Espoo’s Leppävaara district. It is the largest special education institution in the Helsinki Metropolitan area and designed for roughly 400 students. Some of the learning facilities prepare young people and adult students for everyday and working life, while others are reserved for students of various vocational subjects. The college also has its own dance hall and AV, music, studio and video facilities. The many different parts of the institution need to be easily adaptable for multiple uses.
Linja Arkkitehdit, an architectural studio now part of Sweco, initially focused on managing the physical environment. The college was planned on a rocky plot along the busy Turuntie Road. The building is modelled after the palm of the hand, where Turuntie Road is left on the outside and the courtyard is protected by the hand. All pick-up/drop-off and maintenance traffic uses one-way routes, and the building can be accessed via an external elevator from the pedestrian and cycling route along Turuntie Road.
Sweco worked together with the client to consider the scale, aesthetics and feeling of the institute. In addition, experts from various disability organisations and the students themselves were allowed submit requests. For example, pleasant lighting and acoustics were mentioned often. Open learning environments are challenging for groups with special needs, because they may be extremely stressful in terms of being able to focus and pay attention. The solution was many private spaces, in addition to shared facilities. Long straight corridors were also avoided.
The facade of the building facing Turuntie road is covered with ceramic piping, with the windows hidden behind. This solution filters away most of the daylight, helping to create an ideal ratio of natural and artificial light inside.
Thanks to the ceramic piping on the walls, the building stays cool even during the summer, so there is no need for any mechanical cooling. The college enjoys geothermal heating, and the wood facade has been finished with an ecological impregnating agent with silicon minerals from OrganoWood®, which makes the natural wood surface grey as time passes and with no need for maintenance.
The facilities had to be accessible from various perspectives, with moving around the building made easy. For example, to accommodate students with visual or other impairments. By creating aesthetically beautiful and interesting spaces where different hues of colour are used, the eye focuses on things that are essential to the user. A wood veneer door, for example, differs sufficiently from the light wall surface.
The well designed and inspiring spaces with pleasant lighting and soothing acoustics attract students to the premises, even if going to school does not always seem so easy.
Live Vocational College received the Hurraa Award in 2020 from the City of Espoo Building Control Department. The award aims to reward work relating to the built environment that has been carried out with exceptional merit and success.