In a prime but constrained site in the city of Nijmegen, the Netherlands, it is important that the building has an arresting and not simply a utilitarian presence, because of its function. This is to provide vocational education to 16-18 year olds, in a range of subjects covering economics and customer services. There is never an excuse for a building to be dull, but in this case having a bit of pizzazz is essential. Young people are notoriously resistant to anything that seems stodgy, and people of that age group embarking on vocational courses are not likely to be the most highly motivated to undertake education.

The form and function internally also reflects the particular nature of the building. Vocational learning needs to be practised and this building provides the opportunity to do so. One’s first impression on entering is therefore more of being in a shopping mall than in an educational establishment. The shops and restaurants on the ground floor, surrounding an irregularly shaped atrium, are where many of the students will gain their work experience. Above, behind more of the fractured facades, this time facing inwards, are the teaching areas. These make up nine blocks, each of which forms the home base for its topic. Each of these blocks is clad as an individual entity, forming the main expressive elements both internally and externally. The glazing between these, as well as on the ground floor, both brings more light into the interior and breaks up the rhythm.

AGS Architekten & Planners came up with a solution using metal cladding because it allowed it to achieve the variation it needed: between the more open facade on the front of the building and a more closed one at the back, overlooking a railway line; between the monochrome of the exterior and a soft green colour used on the interior. And it was able to create the seemingly random appearance by using a number of repeating elements, so keeping down the cost.

From the inside, the identity of the separate blocks allows the young students to readily see where they belong. And the pattern of the cladding takes this a long way away from the bland shopping centre aesthetic that we see too frequently. Externally, in addition to the excitement of the cladding, breaking the elements up into blocks adds a level of rhythm and interest to what otherwise could seem a relentless long facade. And the fairly neutral colour that has been used adds another level of interest – the aluminium is reflective, and seems to change tone with the changing skies.

ROC Carolus is a building that is intended to give young people the best possible start in life. One hopes they will remember their education with pleasure. They should certainly remember the building in which it took place.

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