Our winning concept for the architectural competition of the International School of Debrecen was based on the form of a circle. This simple, yet symbolic shape traditionally means protection, union and community, while it softly blends into the neighbouring forest area of the Natura 2000 protected 'Nagyerdő'.

The functional programme included an institution starting from kindergarten up to high school with integrated, international curriculum. Its approach to teaching is based on exploration, which requires a special environment: the design had to be flexible and adaptive for the actual needs of students with transparent spatial connections, spacious communal areas and a range of indoor and outdoor facilities for learning, doing sports.

The site is located near Nagyerdő, the city park of Debrecen, in a developing and popular residential area called ‘Pallag’. This calm, natural environment and the fresh air provide an excellent background for the school. However, it was also a great challenge to design a contemporary building that fits into and saves its green surroundings, while it represents the qualities of the International School with its characteristic, iconic and unique appearance.

The key of the design concept was to create a shape, which goes beyond its built borders and integrates in the natural environment.

A circle, with its simple shape, is the symbol of spontaneously formed human groups. A cluster of people who gather either for a discourse between equals or for paying attention to one of them. The circle with its primary simplicity symbolizes the union of space and community. It is also a symbol of the borders of existence, or in other words, of our created world. An area surrounded by a circle melts together groups or individuals. When it marks off a specific space, being outside of it cannot be interpreted and you are urged to enter and belong to the circle. During the development of our concept, we intended to create a ring, which is able to blend in with the environment and goes far beyond its built reality.

We considered the woods to the south of the site as an illustration of nature and science – the ultimate symbols of the whole world. In this way, the forest becomes part of the designed object and it is crucial for them to belong to the same circle. Applying the forest as this kind of illustration requires no changes in its inner structure or appearance. The organically changing pathways are from the essence of the forest and they live harmoniously together. Virtually integrating the surrounding natural area, our concept of the ring has been completed by the pathways that lead into the woods.

Throughout the 'gates' that open to the direction of the forest, nature becomes accessible for children and the pathways formed by them recreate their connection to nature time after time.

The building accommodates different-sized groups and communities of students. They are from three different age groups with rather different needs, whose areas are all placed on the ring, but they are separated from each other. For the youngest children, we created a completely independent world inside the building. There are also three individual entrances: one for kindergarten, another one for elementary school and a third one for high school students. The latter one is considered as the main entrance of the complex.

The pavilion-like classrooms are located on the north side and longitudinal, dynamically pulsing spaces were created behind them.

This structure is continued outdoors, to the direction of the forest, following the circular line and creating garden areas as a transition between the built and natural habitat. The volume of the building protects the outdoor community spaces and sports facilities. From the level of the classrooms, bridge-like structures lead to the basketball-court. Elevated from the ground, it provides visual connection to the football pitch. Half under the ground, the sports hall is covered by a perforated concrete slab. On the ground floor, students are welcomed by an inner garden that is shaded with trees.

In front of the school, we created a drop off-pick up zone for parents to avoid parking when their kids arrive at or leave the school. It is a spiritual preparation, a kind of psychological attunement when they approach the entrance with a short walk, through the garden area.

Project info

  • Project Name International School of Debrecen
  • Location Debrecen, Hungary
  • Dimensions 7 420 m2 (net)
  • Years of Design 2018-
  • Expected Completion 2019
  • Client Municipality of Debrecen
  • General Design BORD Architectural Studio
  • Head Architect Péter Bordás
  • Coordinating Architect Kata Zih
  • Architect Team Anna Illés, Róbert Gulyás, András Kéki, Csilla Kracker, Balázs Móser, Györgyi Püspöki, Ulmann István, Andrea Waldmann
  • Landscape Architecture BORD Architectural Studio - Andrea Waldmann
  • Mechanical Engineering BORD Architectural Studio - Zoltán Hollókövi
  • Visualization Homologue - Zoltán Ölbey
  • Mock-up Limes Model Ltd.