by 42 Heilbronn

by Thomas Bornheim

Building 42 Heilbronn is as much about building a team and a building, as it is about building a community. How can we create a space that supports our students and their learning experience? How do we combine a hands-on coding environment with space for collaboration, and a platform for a learning community? A school needs a real, analog, physical space — and that comes with lots of design decisions.

Above all, a school needs a real, analog, physical space.


Form follows function, and nice places are fun

In my twenties, I had worked in offices in Germany that were dark, gray and depressing. I was amazed that so many workplaces were seemingly designed to make you feel uncomfortable. When I started to work for Google, I experienced something inspiring and fresh. The offices were different from anything I had seen before. They looked like a place where people like to spend their time and where work is fun. Places can be organized for people to come together more easily, and build something awesome.


What should a space look like, where people actually work and learn?

The 42 coding schools I looked at online had a special look. When it came to designing our own rooms, I imagined the people who would enter the building. I looked at everything through their eyes. What would they need, what would they wish for if they came here every day? What would they need to make the building their own place of motivation or innovation? This applies to the students as well as all the other people who work here, colleagues at the reception as well as those responsible for security. They are the ones who ensure a smooth foundation. If they are satisfied, it’s a good start to every day.


Simple, clear, open

In the coding rooms a simple principle applies:

  • Create as little distraction as possible: The clusters are characterized by clarity and thereby allow deep work.
  • Make it open and full of air and light.
  • Make everything interconnected and flexibly converted.

At 42 we focus on peer-to-peer or collaborative learning. The students teach themselves and each other. The necessary knowledge is created together and enhanced by networks and the common experiences. Our students help each other and learn to appreciate the help of others. Cooperation is just as essential as clusters, i.e., places where groups come together. Knowledge renews itself and remains current when open structures promote exchange.


It is also critical to think about spaces that students can use to relax and refresh themselves. We can offer showers for people who commute to school, or who like to take a day-time run or bicycle ride. Besides this, there is space for just chatting, meeting and all the fun activities everyone enjoys. Ideally, these areas should be so comfortable that you want to hang out in them. A couch, a deep armchair. Furniture you can lounge around in. But also an arrangement of the space that tells you: it’s ok to take a nap here. I have helped to build some of these spaces, and as long as we built them to feel comfortable, others enjoyed them, too.

I am happy that Adrien Raoul consults me on the spacial design of the 42. He has been the guiding star of most of the 42 architecture, and I am fortunate to have him as a consultant and mentor. Adrien reminds me of the architectural principles and ideas behind buildings and spaces. He explains to me why clusters are so important to the 42 experience: an individual office space, cubicles, or situations where people ignore each other usually lead to fragmented, isolated learning experiences. A 42 experience should be one, where you are always close to a fellow student, where you enable group experiences and you may feel overwhelmed, but you are never lost or entirely on your own.

In Heilbronn we have the opportunity to combine these approaches with the floor plan and texture of a historical building. It’s clear but robust appearance offers space for structured work as well as for retreat and contemplation. In this way we create a place for courageous people who want to learn programming, but above all create something great. The old Weipert factory is the perfect place for this. A place where people like to spend time. A place for creativity, learning, cooperation — and for visions.

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