MVRDV - Storytelling through a façade artwork: Alumni Winy Maas and Theobert van Boven give their old school a new look

Storytelling through a façade artwork: Alumni Winy Maas and Theobert van Boven give their old school a new look


The renovation of the well-known Gymnasium Beekvliet in Sint-Michielsgestel is complete. The school has been extended so that pupils and teachers circulate past classrooms and other areas in a more logical manner, while a sky-blue auditorium forms the new heart of the school. The façade of the extension has been enriched with a panoramic work by visual artist Ian Kirkpatrick. The murals intertwine the stories of former pupils, passers-by, and board members with images of the future.

© Daria Scagliola

The centuries-old Catholic categorical Gymnasium Beekvliet in Sint-Michielsgestel has a long history: starting as a seminary for priests, it served as an internment camp for politically engaged Dutchmen during the Second World War, including the first post-war Prime Minister “Wim” Schermerhorn. In the 1970s, new premises directly across the street were acquired, and the school transformed into a new-style grammar school. In 2016, MVRDV and Van Boven Architecten, under the lead of Beekvliet alumni Winy Maas and Theobert van Boven, won the competition to renovate the building.

The starting point was to give the secondary school a facelift and make the building contemporary again in terms of sustainability, including by extending its lifespan. At the same time, the brief was to create more space for both regular school activities and additional art and cultural facilities.

© Daria Scagliola

The design largely consists of renovating the existing building. This will create a challenging and stimulating learning environment for pupils and provide space for meetings and interaction through the addition of a new internal "ring street". Also added were a library on top of the building and a new auditorium to the front of the building. By extending and lowering the previous roof structure, the internal circulation of the school was closed in one flowing space, a reference to the school's motto “Beekvliet flows” (in Dutch, "Beekvliet" is also derived from the word for a stream). The new building houses the enlarged auditorium – known as the Blauwla, a portmanteau of blauw (blue) and aula (auditorium) – complete with tribune, kitchen, and flexible stage. The main entrance remains in the same place as before the renovation, the only difference being that it will now be situated underneath the new curving roof. 

© Daria Scagliola

“Being allowed to renovate your old school is of course a huge honour,” says Winy Maas, founding partner of MVRDV. “Theobert, Gijs, and I did wonder how we could do it in such a way that the grammar school would respond to the contemporary context as well as the past. Ian's paintings help enormously with that. I love that memories of students past and present are represented in his murals. Actually, there is a piece of everyone in the village in this building. It really is a reflection of the whole of Sint-Michielsgestel and its surroundings. Everything comes together in a ‘compass’ in the ceiling of the new entrance hall that points to where the stories come from in the surrounding area.”

© Daria Scagliola

The artwork on the facade was designed in collaboration with renowned Canadian visual artist Ian Kirkpatrick. The experiences of current and former students, teachers, and board members are projected on the façades of the extension, creating a panoramic tableau that connects these memories with the places that they happened. It also contains references to the surroundings and Beekvliet's 200-plus-year history; as this history continues, new images can be added with stickers in the future. The paintings thus depict the school’s genesis and its connection to the world beyond. The iconographic illustrations give the building a contemporary look and at the same time anchor the building in its surroundings. The position of the illustrations on the facade were determined via a computer scripting technique linking each one back to its geographical location.

See more of Gymnasium Beekvliet here.