An urban campus for vocational studies
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MBO Utrecht, Utrecht

The Australiëlaan in Utrecht has been a base for the provision of vocational courses for more than 40 years. These courses have taken place in a collection of buildings from different eras, where up to 5,000 students each year have trained for careers as engineers, nurses, teaching assistants and marketing professionals. However, changes in education delivery necessitated an overhaul of the buildings, a project that was recently completed. What was once a patchwork of architectural styles is now a visually coherent, sustainable ensemble of new and renovated buildings, constituting a modern urban campus that’s more than the sum of its parts.

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Name Onderwijsboulevard MBO Utrecht
Client MBO Utrecht
Location Utrecht
Status Completed 2023


Architect Ector Hoogstad Architects
Contractor Dura Vermeer 
Construction Pieters Bouwtechniek
Electrical and plumbing services and structural engineering Merosch

Photography Petra Appelhof

Three pre-existing buildings from the 1960s, 1980s and 1990s have been renovated and joined together to form a single, visually coherent campus. The buildings are linked by a vast, 150m-long, double-height, skylit hallway with exits to the school grounds and beyond. As the newly built main entrance can be approached from both the street and the park, we designed the hallway as a public passage distinguished by a seamless transition between the indoor and outdoor space. The hallway also houses support facilities such as a reception desk, a canteen, coffee bars, a multipurpose lecture theatre and study zones. The extra-wide staircase in the main foyer doubles as seating-cum-leisure space and as a venue for presentations, graduation ceremonies and receptions.

Our design process included a series of interactive workshops with students and staff to ensure the inclusion of their ideas and requirements in the final design. As a result, each faculty now boasts a distinctive, modestly sized learning environment of its own, with direct access to the skylit hallway. Related disciplines are situated in close proximity to facilitate educational synergy. The openness of the design provides visual access to the cooking lab, games room, ICT lab, robotics lab, events lab and the Herman Brood Academy’s booths and rehearsal studios, which puts the activities therein on display and helps generate a lively atmosphere that reinforces the practical nature of the college’s offerings. The more generic lecture rooms dotted about the building are designed for use by all faculties, thus ensuring optimal occupancy levels.

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Health and wellbeing were central to the design, which includes measures such as an entirely new heating and cooling system, oversized windows to fill the building with daylight and make the most of the views, the use of natural building materials and planting of lots of indoor greenery. Direct access to the park provides constant encouragement to get up and move about. The grounds of the building have been made as nature-inclusive and climate-adaptive as possible: the massive trees that were here before we commenced construction have been left untouched. We also minimized the amount of paving in the garden, which we made as lush as possible and dotted with picnic tables.

The design was informed by our circular roadmap, thus keeping the building’s whole life carbon output to a minimum. We recycled as many sections of the existing buildings as possible — including W. Ingwersen’s Le Corbusier-inspired technical school building from 1963 — and new structural elements are detachable by design and are likewise largely composed of recycled material. For instance, interior walls are largely composed of recycled sheets of drywall, and the old parquet floor was repurposed for the stair treads of the extra-wide staircase. We also wrapped the building in wood, thereby setting a new benchmark for urban design.

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The design was produced by a team that included representatives from all parts of the construction project, and was executed in phases that allowed huge sections of the college to remain in use during construction. Naturally, this meant taking every precaution to minimize both the potential inconvenience to students following from the work and the hazards associated with construction.

The result of all of this is a dynamic and inspiring building that provides each faculty with a secure and modestly sized learning environment of its own while simultaneously fostering a sense of community with the rest of the school.

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