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Subtract, Add, Transform

Historically Listed Primary School and New Secondary School in Leoben, Styria

Competition with preliminary application phase, 1st prize

Leoben is Styria’s second-largest city. The university (Montanuniversität Leoben) plus many industrial companies play a central role for Leoben and its residents. This city is a place of long-standing traditions and architectural culture – but it’s also demographically diverse, with lots of children who require nuanced educational guidance.

It’s extremely important to me that our school students be proud of their school and that our teachers feel good here.

Kurt Wallner, mayor of Leoben

As one of the region’s largest school locations, the new downtown education center “Bildungszentrum Innenstadt Leoben” clearly shows just how well diversity can work within a community. The primary school and new secondary school here, with a total of 600 children, had always shared the same building – but never with any common spaces or synergies. The architecture competition to renovate and expand it thus presented an opportunity to arrive at a shared identity.



On an Equal Footing

The design process began not with initial negotiations (as such things usually do), but rather during the competition phase, where we discussed the task at hand and its requirements together with 70 teachers over several days of workshops moderated by the architecture studio nonconform. This gave us the opportunity to integrate the teachers’ desires and needs into our design and the subsequent project planning – and in return, our counterparts learned from our many years of experience in building schools.

Preexisting structure
Elimination of additions
New central staircase
Common areas

Transformation in Every Respect

We succeeded in preserving the education center’s historically listed substance, which dates back to 1904/05, but we demolished the small addition for the school custodian as well as the old bathrooms in the interest of more space and transparency. We then filled this newly created space between the historically listed classroom wing and the gymnasium building with generous common areas opening onto the garden.

What’s special about our design is that it’s preserved the lion’s share of the existing structure while creating an entirely new school.

Martino Libisch, project head at Franz&Sue

The stepped and glassed-in areas with partially roofed-over balconies offer the children generous, open common spaces with a view of the old town green. And it’s this park-like area towards which the school’s new “face,” including the new main entrance area, now looks.

On a new level

We dug out the old basement to create a ground floor with a bright, open lobby and direct access to the green. From here, students can easily get their bearings and quickly go anywhere they need to. And a new social core for the education center is provided by the Learning Landscape with its coatroom amenities, the library, and the assembly hall.

We replaced the old, hierarchical structures, the dark hallways and daunting places, with bright, open, and friendly areas. So now, the children can move through their school building with a sense of security and self-confidence.

School with a Heart

This fundamentally communication-friendly attitude can be seen most clearly in the education center’s central staircase, which connects all four levels and combines with the airspace in between to form this school’s heart. We replaced the long hallways and blind spots with movable hallway furniture, interior walls with windows, seating niches, and transparent areas for group activities. Major and minor changes to the school’s interior – like the sunny spectrum of colors and the perforated Aleppo pine ceilings with starry sky lighting – likewise contribute to the open and friendly atmosphere that one immediately senses upon entering the school.

Growing as a Community

Our workshops with the teachers included discussions that were lively and quite heated, especially when it came to the question of how a group of teachers can arrange themselves spatially in such a way that everyone feels good. We took the need for separate faculty rooms with individual workspaces expressed by the teachers seriously and eventually arrived with them at an alternative solution that they really liked: a large multifunctional furniture element that now occupies the center of the large common faculty room. It separates the work areas of the primary school and new secondary school, contains lockers, and simultaneously functions as a connecting lounge.

Several days of workshops during the competition phase enabled us to join 70 teachers in discussing the task at hand and its requirements as well as concrete desires and needs. We learned to do without our accustomed architectural jargon, while our counterparts learned how the ideal solution frequently isn’t the most obvious one.

Site plan
Floor plan ground floor
Floor plan upper floor


Type of commission

EU-weit, nicht offener Wettbewerb

Scope of commission

Gesamte Planung




Infra KG Stadtgemeinde Leoben,
Laubreiter Bauingenieur Ziviltechniker GmbH


Leoben, Steiermark







Net usable floor area

9.402 m²

Gross floor area

14.557 m²

Building costs

14.4 Mio. €


Martino Libisch (PL), Carla Kuhn, Florian Haim, Barbara Wagner, Louai Abdul Fattah, Ajdin Vukovic


Structural engineer

DI Michael Judmayer ZT GmbH

Building physics

Vatter & Partner ZT Gmbh

Building services

IB Ing. Siegfried Feiel

Fire safety planning

Norbert Rabl ZT GmbH


Hertha Hurnaus