Images courtesy of ATI Consultants, Architects & Engineers
Images courtesy of ATI Consultants, Architects & Engineers

ATI designs origami-inspired private school in the UAE’s Umm Al Quwain

Regional architecture and design practice ATI Consultants, Architects & Engineers has designed the International School of Choueifat, a new project in the UAE’s northern emirate of Umm Al Quwain.

Run by the SABIS school system, the school sits on a 70,000m2 plot in a newly developed area of the emirate. Planned as a two-phase construction project, the school aimed to support 550 students in its first year and 2,000 in its second year. The first phase and part of the second phase of the project now completed and currently operational.

ATI’s scope of work for the project included the programming and planning of the total campus, the concept design, the schematic design, design development and construction supervision.

According to the architects, the design of the school had to integrate various principles, including human-scaled exterior spaces, sustainable and inviting architecture and landscape, buildings that define and create protective exterior spaces, contemporary forms rooted in tradition, clear entry points and transparency that promotes connectivity. Further focusing on principles of symmetry, the development’s plan also centres around an open-air courtyard.

Reinforcing spatial and functional efficiency, user groups are consolidated into zones: primary and secondary grades are distinguished through separation of shared programmes and colours within the interior and exterior spaces. ‘Zones of Activity’ – which refers to areas of academics, arts and athletics – are differentiated and maintained in an organisational structure, which establishes curricular focus and promotes cross-departmental collaboration and resource sharing.

The façade was designed with consideration of the sun’s trajectory, creating walls that are highly insulated to protect from thermal fenestration. Projects were also introduced as shading elements and were carefully positioned to create the optimum balance between daylight and shade within the classrooms, therefore reducing the need for artificial lighting.

“Ultimately derived from the functionality of the school, the playful and contemporary form was devised early in the design,” said Dilara Ajun, creative director at ATI. “Buildings were configured to slow down and block harsh prevailing winds to create comfortable outdoor gathering spaces for the children. The classroom blocks were staggered on top of one another to break the monotony of the traditional forms and enhance the connectivity of the various teaching spaces. Certain blocks were raised on columns, thereby allowing the utilisation of the spaces created under these buildings as play areas and outdoor educational zones.”

Accentuating the main entrance, ATI designed the building envelope to follow a “twisted” form. The architects, who noted origami art as the inspiration behind the design, said this element helps create a “uniquely playful structure”.

Combined with world-class facilities, the agglomeration of clusters that outline semi-private open spaces and courtyards allow children to have visual contact with exterior breakout spaces and greenery. The whole structure welcomes natural lighting into its interior spaces, enabling well-being and positive learning.

“The children’s movement is guided by the visual stimulants of different colours in the interior spaces,” added Ajun. “To this end, thoughtful use of clear, soft shades of interior finishing identifies different areas for different age groups, while playful designs stimulate and enhance movement and curiosity in the students’ minds. The colours chosen within the classrooms have been particularly selected so as not to overstimulate the children, but rather focus their attention on the learning activity at hand, all the while creating a warm, cosy environment that makes them feel comfortable.

“Origami-inspired geometric patterns were used to identify the classroom entrances, common activity areas and exits to internal and external gardens. Multiple openings in the form of glazed roofs and atriums create a constant connection between the interior space and the green patios, bathing the wall in a mosaic spray of shades.”

The architects noted that the primary intent of the landscape was to further offer a diverse range of environments that are simultaneously stimulating and restful, promoting outdoor learning, exercise and social interaction. Local tree and garden plants provide a variety of shaded exterior courts, walkways and microclimates, while the arrangement of play areas, shaders, greenery and material and colour of the surfaces contribute to lowering the heat island effect.