Glasir Education Center
An ambitious project launched in Tórshavn in 2008 and completed in 2019, Glasir Education Center gathers 1,500 students from three educational institutions into the largest building project in the Faroe Islands to date.
Af Ariana Zilliacus
Danish architecture firm Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) designed the 19,200 sq.m building with a clear focus on transparency and shared spaces, aiming to encourage the sharing of knowledge. Combining various age groups and disciplines into an educational focal point — perched 100 meters above sea level on the outskirts of Tórshavn — provides Glasir with the ideological backing needed for such an outstanding building.
Glasir is founded on the idea that shared spaces can bridge knowledge and connect people on social, professional and educational levels. At the center of this, both physically and ideologically, is the central courtyard, around which three institutions – the Faroe Islands Gymnasium, Tórshavn Technical College and the Business College of Faroe Islands – are spun around like satellites being shot into orbit. And much like satellites experiencing Earth’s gravitational pull, the various inhabitants of Glasir are invited into the courtyard’s wide-open space, which connects all five levels of the building. This multi-level intersection not only serves to link programs and spaces but also doubles as the institutions’ largest gathering hall, where steps turn into seats and the ground-floor’s meeting area becomes a stage for lecturers and performers. It’s a kind of concrete landscape that, although more contrived than its ancient counterpart on the other side of the glass façade, provides similar flexibility for its users.
We were inspired by the dramatic landscape of Tórshavn. We liked the idea of transferring that landscape into the building’s interior design.
— Bjarke Ingels, Founding Partner of BIG
As with most educational institutions, Glasir’s spaces aren’t limited to just classrooms. The vortex-shaped building includes sports facilities, metal and wood workshops, music rooms, a FabLab, a canteen, and a library – all of which are, at least partially, visually connected to the central shared space. In other words, despite the necessary compartmentalization of workspaces, Glasir retains the quality of one large organism where work, play, creation, and consumption can simultaneously take place and coexist. Students having lunch can look across the atrium and see, through tinted-glass shades of purple, pink, blue and yellow, fellow students in the workshop, learning in a classroom, or simply hanging out on the concrete steps.
The vast amount of sunlight coming in through the glass façade and glazed roof supplies a bright learning environment, even more essential than usual in a country as cold and cloudy as the Faroe Islands. Glasir’s transparent façade also provides students and teachers with a stunning backdrop for their classrooms, a constant visual connection to the surrounding landscape that minimizes the barrier between inside and outside. Perceiving the building from the outside-in is not as seamless, due to the size and materiality of Tórshavn’s urban addition.
BIG’s long-term plan includes growing grass on the roof of the educational center, which the architecture studio hopes will allow the building to ‘disappear’ into the landscape. Given that Glasir is the Faroe Islands’ largest building project ever, this expectation seems unlikely to come true. Grass roofs, however, are a traditional Faroese architectural practice that can be seen on several other buildings in Tórshavn, and if realized on Glasir, will be one architectural element that binds the contemporary building to the local architecture.
‘Glasir’ (meaning ‘gleaming’ or ‘beaming’), shares its name with the most beautiful tree in Norse mythology, found in the land of gods. With its branching arms searching out into the landscape, the building does evoke the image of a tremendous, other-worldly tree. And although it does gleam and shines in the Arctic light, this Glasir is not swaying outside the doors of Valhalla; instead, it serves as a foundation for exploration and experimentation, where young people looking to become the makers of their own futures can open doors to knowledge.