New pre-school in Garðabær, Iceland

Competition proposal - Winner

TEAM: HJARK + sastudio + exa nordic | Tiago Sá,  Hulda Jónsdóttir, Arnar Björn Björnsson, Victor Óli Búason, Lukas Kalivoda, Rodolfo Coehlo, Inna Ivanova | Ráðgjafar: Arkibygg LOCATION: Garðabær, Ísland CLIENT: Garðabær

Arnar Björn Björnsson, one of the founders of exa nordic, contributed to the competition proposal along with architectural teams of sastudio og Huldajons.

The design addresses the plot’s slope by gradually lowering the building, fitting all children facilities on a single floor. It privileges access to the outdoors, and provides all homerooms with direct connection to the indoor and outdoor playgrounds.
The massing grows towards north, maximizing sun exposure, but also growing together with the kids, as they grow older, floor heights are as well higher. The building is fragmented in smaller volumes that children can easily identify and relate to the different spaces.
Rather than corridors, the circulation is done along a central axis entirely opened to common functions for both learning and playing.
The whole concept is focused on providing a safe and warm environment for play and growth, and the building and grounds are part of the learning experience.


The design promotes awareness and respect for the environment and creates opportunities for learning through work and play. The food cycle is highlighted by showcasing the kitchen and the greenhouse both from the outside and inside from the multi-purpose hall. There is also a didactic farming area, so children will experience the food from cultivation to waste sorting.
The water cycle shapes the design of outdoor spaces that offer exciting and stimulating play areas, sheltered from traffic and prevailing winds.
The playground draws inspiration from the ecosystem of the nearby lake, Urriðavatn, and is connected to green areas on perimeter of the plot. Rain that falls on roofs is collected and used for play before it is returned to nature. The landscape defines a seating area that for outdoor teaching, and the natural hill is preserved in a selected area to allow for adventurous climbing in the summer and exciting slay rides in the winter.
Materiality is selected with environmental impact in mind. Environmentally friendly concrete is used in foundations and ground slab, and the structural system is made of cross-glued timber, as a light and strong load-bearing material is well suited for earthquake areas. The structural system is simple and allows for efficient and quick construction that minimizes waste. It is based on an C-like shape that is simple, stable and strong. Interior partitions are made lightweight allowing maximum flexibility for any changes in operational needs in the future.