Notski, Heinola Upper Secondary School, Heinola, Finland


Location: Heinola, Finland

Year: 2017

Total Area: 5200m2

Programme: Upper secondary school, sports facilities, auditorium and exterior landscaping




 - Learning environments focus on adaptability and combining spaces

 - Four main units create an interior courtyard between them

 - These units contain classrooms, a sports hall, and an auditorium

 - Large sports facilities complement outdoor play and sport spaces

 - Spaces change from public to private as users move up the building




Notski sits in the heart of Heinola, a secluded Finnish town of around 20,000 inhabitants, surrounded by a patchwork of islands, lakes and forests that make up the luscious Nordic landscape. Within this sinuous natural environment, the centre of Heinola has developed a linear grid structure. Lahdelma & Mahlamäki’s school breaks this orthogonal sequence bringing the essence of the natural landscape back into the town. The subtle gestures of courtyards and nature that surround the school blend its boundaries into those of the adjacent Maaherra Park. This extra outdoor space provides students with sports pitches, green space and an amphitheatre that extends their social and learning areas into the outdoors.


Whilst primarily being a home for students, Notski belongs to all age-groups and sections of the population. The building bases its spatial arrangement on balancing these two sets of users. Ground floor functions such as the auditorium, main space and sports hall were all designed to accommodate both students and members of the public and aim to be visually and physically open to the public. The building works around the clock, open for classes during school hours, but also functioning during evenings and weekends for civic activities. 

The façade of the building reflects the duality of the public and private levels of the school. Large timber beams frame double-storey windows which connect the inside and outside spaces. Whereas on the private, student top floor, a more opaque material will wrap around the façade. This layer aims to let in the natural light whilst providing a more sheltered environment for focused learning. The contrast between the upper and lower façade creates a new building image for the town, but at the same time shows itself as a gentle, elegant and sophisticated building. 


The fixed learning spaces within the angled plan keep a clear structure which allows for the endless adaptation of the rooms. Adjustable walls allow classrooms to be opened up to each other, to combine classes or allow for a wider range of activities to take place. Each classroom layout also varies from the next. Both group-focussed seating arrangements as well as more traditional classrooms provide unique learning environments which can cater specifically for individual activities and ensure a dynamic school environment. 


The name Notski comes from the Finnish slang for campfire, which is the motif behind the school’s layout. The social, lively, centre of the building is where all the other functions are seated around. Like a campfire the school wants to bring together members of the community around a hive of activity. 



Metropolia Myllypuro Campus, Helsinki, 2017

Kastelli School and Community Centre, Oulu, 2014

Joensuu Primary School, Joensuu, 2006




Competition Phase: Ilmari Lahdelma and Rainer Mahlamäki with Tarmo Juhola, Jukka Savolainen, Shaun Leung, 


Building Design Phase: Ilmari Lahdelma and Rainer Mahlamäki with Petri Saarelainen, Marko Santala, Anna Wawrzyniak, Olli Aarnio