Dezeen Magazine

Open Architecture completes a "free-form" Beijing school surrounded by gardens

Gardens are slotted into gaps between the wings of this Beijing school by Open Architecture, and extend over mounds containing a subterranean swimming pool and an auditorium (+ slideshow).

Photograph by Su Shengliang

The Garden School – one of the nominees for this year's Designs of the Year awards – is located in the Changyang area of the Chinese capital's Fangshan District and was designed by local firm Open Architecture as a branch of the Beijing No.4 High School.

Photograph by Su Shengliang

One of the key objectives of the local authorities was to provide students with a more natural and open-air setting than is typical of conventional inner-city schools, despite the limited dimensions of the site.

Photograph by Su Shengliang

These criteria informed the decision to accommodate some of the building's larger communal facilities – including the canteen, auditorium, gymnasium and swimming pool – below ground and allow the gardens to extend over their rooftops.

The turfed mounds slope upwards to meet the upper portion of the building, which contains classrooms, laboratories, dormitories and offices.

Photograph by Chen Cheng
Photograph by Chen Cheng

"The juxtaposition of the resultant upper and lower building, connected at the middle-ground in various ways, is as much an interesting spatial strategy as a signifier of the relationship between formal and informal educational spaces in the new school," stated the architects.

Photograph by Chen Cheng
Photograph by Chen Cheng

The shapes of the mounds were determined by the height requirements of their varying programmes. Spaces created on top include a poetry garden, a theatre garden and a bamboo garden.

Photograph by Su Shengliang

Sections of the building visible above ground are organised around a central axis. Branches extend out on on either side, accommodating the teaching and administration spaces.

This arrangement provides a variety of interconnected teaching and activity areas.

Photograph by Chen Cheng
Photograph by Chen Cheng

"Unlike a typical campus with hierarchical spatial organisation and often clear axis to organise more or less symmetrical movements, this new school is free-form and meant to have multiple centres that can be accessed in any possible sequences," the architects added.

Photograph by Xia Zhi
Photograph by Xia Zhi

A corridor running along the building's spine expands outwards at various points to accommodate the swell in student numbers as they move between classes, and to incorporate small breakout spaces.

Photograph by Su Shengliang

In places, the building's facade bulges outwards to form cantilevered sections that accommodate various functions, including an exhibition room.

Each of the branches culminates in a stair with an open bannister, forming a meandering gash in its surface.

Photograph by Su Shengliang

Rooflights inserted into the banks of the mounds and lightwells that extend down to the basement level provide natural light to the underground rooms.

Photograph by Xia Zhi
Photograph by Xia Zhi

The materials applied internally reflect the relationship of the spaces to the outdoors, with large windows overlooking gardens in the upper storeys, while the subterranean canteen features a cave-like faceted concrete ceiling.

Photograph by Xia Zhi
Photograph by Xia Zhi

A rooftop garden that stretches across the whole of the irregular building contains separate plots for each of the school's 36 classes.

Photograph by Su Shengliang

Garden School is shortlisted in the architecture category for Designs of the Year, an annual prize organised by London's Design Museum. The category also features a mosque in Istanbul which is set into a sloping site and covered with grass and shallow ponds.

Project credits:

Design firm: OPEN Architecture
Principal-in-charge: Li Hu, Huang Wenjing
Project team: Daijiro Nakayama, Ye Qing, Zhang Hao, Zhou Tingting, Thomas Batzenschlager, Zhang Chang, Jotte Seghers, Wang Yifan, Li Qiang, Ge Ruishi, Xue Wencan, Brendan Whitsitt, Ami Kito, Tao Wei, Simina Cuc, Zhao Yao, Chen Xiaoting, Cynthia Yurou Cui, Tang Wei;
Competition team: Yu Qingbo, Felipe Escudero, Julia Mok, Lu Chen, Scott Craven
Local design institute: Beijing Institute of Architectural Design
Sustainability consultant: School of Architecture, Tsinghua University
Curtain Wall consultant: Inhabit Group
Lighting consultant: Lighting Design Partnership International
Acoustics consultant: Clocell
Structure consultant: CABR Technology
Signage design: Beijing Trycool Design
Interior CD firm: CHOICE Design
Landscape CD firm: MILAND Design
General contractor: Zhongxing Construction
Interior contractor: Jiangsu Construction Engineering Group, Jin Longteng Decoration
Curtain wall contractor: Shenzhen Sanxin Curtain Wall engineering
Landscape contractor: Beijing Changjian Yancheng Construction & Engineering

Concept diagram – click for larger image
Site overview – click for larger image
Site plan – click for larger image
Floor plans – click for larger image
Sections – click for larger image
Auditorium detail – click for larger image
Bike parking area detail – click for larger image
Canteen detail – click for larger image
Gymnasium detail – click for larger image
Lecture hall detail – click for larger image
Green strategies diagram – click for larger image
Sustainable system diagram – click for larger image