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Modular mass-timber system for building schools

The collective Circlewood, which consists of various companies including architectural firm OMA, developed a prefabricated, mass timber ‘plug and play’ system to build nine to thirty “high-quality, flexible and sustainable” schools in ten years in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Amsterdam has commited to halving the use of primary materials by 2030 and becoming fully circular by 2050. Called the HoutKern Bouwmethode (‘wood core building method’), the modular system consists of standardized wooden columns and cross-laminated timber (CLT) floor panels, which are connected by recycled steel joints. All the components are made in a factory under a digitally controlled process to ensure fast assembly and disassembly by an electric crane on site.

The components are arranged into 3.6 m wide, 7.2 m long, and up to three-storey high structural frameworks. All partition walls are non-load-bearing to create spaces of different sizes and uses, including standard classrooms and offices, an auditorium and gymnasium, and even gardens and athletic tracks. The biobased partition walls can be adapted to support different school activities such as indoor climbing and vertical farming.

The prefabricated building method reduces nitrogen emissions by 80 percent compared with standard onsite construction. The biobased walls – made with carbon absorbing raw materials – are lighter and require less energy for transportation. The system also allows for easy assembly, which also makes it easy to expand or downscale if necessary.

Images: OMA