In many small towns, residents need to make the most of the limited infrastructure they have. On the outskirts of Terlano in South Tyrol, Italy, local firm MoDus Architects has done just that, with its thoughtful renovation and addition to an aging school. Built in the 1990s — and first renovated in the early 2000s — the U-shaped structure comprised a nursery school, a kindergarten and a youth centre, but had been outgrown by the population. Rather than starting from scratch, the township opted to build onto the existing structure, which is now called the Tartan School.

Girl sitting at small table in front of a window
Children playing in front of a window

Nestled into a bucolic landscape of vineyards and apple orchards, the school is located on the edge of the alpine town’s centre and hemmed in by a daycare, a seniors’ home and an agricultural co-op and canteen. The new addition is wedged between old school and the winery next door, its plaster facades embossed in a two-tone light green tartan pattern that blends seamlessly into the verdant surroundings.

Tartan School by MoDus Architects

“The school derives its name from the plaster façades, which emulate the patterning of tartan fabric — a textile that conveys a feeling of warmth and familiarity,” explains MoDus co-founder Sandy Attia. Meanwhile, the building’s intimate scale and playful sawtooth roof nod to the residential context and local vernacular.

Seating area with small tables and yellow chairs

The challenge for MoDus was to figure out how to make the most of the space that was already there ­ — and how the building’s three distinct educational programs would interface with each other. Through careful planning, the architects ensured that there were more generous (although fewer) common spaces than before, and that they were also more publicly accessible. They also brought the old school up to today’s energy performance standards, replacing the windows, wall and roof insulation to improve thermal efficiency.

Wooden gymnasium

While the youth centre remains on the ground level of the existing building, the kindergarten — which boasts four classrooms, group activity rooms, a napping room and a reading area — was relegated to the addition to allow the nursery school to take over the upper floor. On the ground floor of the new wing, a small auditorium, a dining hall and a gym offer communal amenities for both the school and the public, suitable for hosting events, recitals and community meetings.

Tartan School by MoDus Architects as seen from the playground

These shared spaces open out to the schoolyard, framed by a loggia of trapezoidal wall cut-outs, allowing for ease of movement between indoors and out at lunchtime and playtime. Connected to the town’s playground, it serves as a natural extension of the public realm.

Hallway at the Tartan School
Hallway at the Tartan School

Though connected in plan and section, the old and new buildings function as separate entities. Yet, they are unified through their interior palette: brick-red resin flooring, MDF, custom built-ins for wardrobes, reading and activity nooks, and the ceiling-mounted acoustic panels that absorb the sounds of boisterous children moving around the school. Throughout, the irregularly placed windows fill the spaces with ample natural light.

Child drawing at a table at the Tartan School

Warm and inviting, the Tartan School reflects MoDus’ approach, honed over more than 20 educational projects completed over several decades, to foster a reciprocal relationship between learning and the environment in which it takes place.

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