Amsterdam Democratic School

The Coopery Museum building in Amsterdam is a recent extension to the Mill of Sloten, a polder mill located on the Ringvaart waterway that encloses the Haarlemmermeer Polder. Economic conditions forced the museum to close its doors in 2020. It turned out to be the perfect building to house two private democratic schools from the region, both of which were looking for new accommodation. LIFE! (Learning in a Free Environment) invited Serge Schoemaker Architects to design the museum conversion.

The hallmarks of democratic education are small class sizes, individual guidance and learning at your own pace. Many of the children who attend the school are unable to cope with normal educational environments for a variety of reasons. Such children become overburdened or unhappy in regular schools because of dyslexia, high intelligence, extreme sensitivity, ADHD or other reasons. The Coopery Museum is a perfect place to provide a safe learning environment for these children.

The three-floor museum building is shaped like a traditional dike house. A concrete basement supports the ground floor and pitched roof made of timber. The conversion enhances the contrast in colour and mood between the basement, ground and attic levels. That gives the school the option to hold certain activities in the intimate basement or in the tall attic.

The former exhibition area on the ground floor will be divided into smaller group spaces to facilitate the change in function. The design proposes a central access route, with the corridor walls meandering around the existing timber trusses. That leaves the loadbearing structure of the museum intact and also turns it into an integral part of the design. Moreover, the meandering form creates surprising spatial effects and broader functional zones along the corridor.

Another advantage of the absence of connections between the existing and new structures is that the interventions can be undone without leaving behind too many traces. To facilitate the quick construction, the design avails of a minor exemption clause in the zoning plan, which stipulates that a change in function can be reversed within 10 years. As a result, the new partition walls will be made of detachable prefabricated components with an environmentally friendly core of flax. The walls will be finished in clay stucco and clay paint, which also contribute to a healthy indoor climate.

The strip of glass that extends across the top of the new partitions ensures optimal daylight conditions and maximizes views of the existing timber trusses. The many windows also guarantee plenty of light and air indoors and create a sense of space, without distracting the children during lessons.


Location: Amsterdam, Netherlands
Date: 2021-2022
Status: Ongoing
Client: LIFE! (Learning in a Free Environment)
Project team: Serge Schoemaker, Ottavia Profumo, Tessa Spoelstra

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