Arts Centre at Shanghai Qingpu Pinghe International School by Open Architecture

Open Architecture designs Shanghai school to be more like a village than a megastructure

An eclectic mix of buildings form the Shanghai Qingpu Pinghe International School, designed by Chinese studio Open Architecture to promote a richer and more varied learning experience.

Open Architecture co-founder Huang Wenjing told Dezeen the aim was to find an alternative to the "school-as megastructure" model, which has become particularly prevalent in China.

Aerial view of Shanghai Qingpu Pinghe International School by Open Architecture
Top image: the 50,000-square-metre campus includes a mix of buildings. Above: it was designed like a village. Photo is by Chen Hao

Instead of containing all of its learning spaces in a single building, the Qingpu Pinghe school features a variety of unusual structures, including a theatre and library known as "the blue whale", a multi-faceted art centre building and an organically shaped kindergarten.

"We turned away from the homogeneous megastructure typology," explained Huang, who leads Open Architecture alongside fellow co-founder Li Hu.

Aerial view of classrooms at Shanghai Qingpu Pinghe International School by Open Architecture
The varied landscape design incorporates ponds and a 400-metre running track

"Through breaking down the complex programme, recombining them into different buildings of varied scales, then weaving the separate components by landscape, we intended to achieve a whole which is rich, complex, yet coherent," she added.

This design concept takes inspiration from the African proverb "it takes a village to raise a child".

The architects wanted to create an environment offering different types of spatial experience, as they believe this improves a child's development.

Classroom blocks at Arts Centre at Shanghai Qingpu Pinghe International School by Open Architecture
Classrooms are contained within bamboo-clad cube-shaped buildings. Photo is by Jonathan Leijonhufvud

"We wanted our buildings and the open spaces in between to help form, nurture, and sustain a healthy village-like learning environment," Huang said.

"The overall strategy in short; breaking down the whole into parts, then synthesising the parts into a new whole."

Arts Centre at Shanghai Qingpu Pinghe International School by Open Architecture
The arts centre is a multi-faceted grey block. Photo is by Chen Hao

Occupying an entire 50,000-square-metre urban block, the Qingpu Pinghe school was designed for up to 2000 students, aged between three and 15.

It incorporates a 24-class kindergarten, a 30-class primary school and a 24-class junior high school.

While the kindergarten has its own self-contained building, the primary school and junior high school use facilities dotted around the campus.

Classrooms for both are schools clustered together in a series of six cube-shaped blocks.

Interior of Arts Centre at Shanghai Qingpu Pinghe International School by Open Architecture
Inside, the arts centre is organised around a pair of interconnecting atriums

These five-storey-high buildings look alike, with their protruding concrete floor plates and bamboo cladding, but differ slightly.

The primary school blocks have curved details, while the junior high school blocks are more angular.

Bibliotheater at Arts Centre at Shanghai Qingpu Pinghe International School by Open Architecture
The library and theatre building is nicknamed "the blue whale". Photo is by Jonathan Leijonhufvud

The arts centre gets its faceted form from its internal layout, which includes a pair of double-height atriums that interconnect, allowing light to penetrate.

Meanwhile the blue-painted bibliotheater – which featured on Dezeen previously – has a curved geometry, which is why the building is known as the blue whale.

Gym Canteen at Arts Centre at Shanghai Qingpu Pinghe International School by Open Architecture
A pair of rounded white buildings contains sports facilities and a canteen

Other buildings on the campus include the gym-canteen, which incorporates sports halls, a swimming pool and dining areas. This consists of a pair of rounded white volumes, with the canteen housed within a glazed box on the ground floor.

Student dormitories are contained within a pair of rounded structures, which form a figure of eight when viewed from above.

Swimming pool at Shanghai Qingpu Pinghe International School by Open Architecture
Sports facilities include a swimming pool with skylights overhead. Photo is by Jonathan Leijonhufvud

The landscape was carefully designed to support the environments of each building, combining a mix of outdoor learning spaces, sports pitches, gardens and pathways.

A 400-metre running trail winds its way around the campus, and there are also more wild areas that include tree, ponds and small plant-covered hills.

"Landscape holds the magical power," said Huang. "The gardens, fields, forest and ponds are together like fluid, mitigating and bringing the different buildings together as a whole."

Kindergarten at Gym Canteen at Shanghai Qingpu Pinghe International School by Open Architecture
A kindergarten is a self-contained building wrapping around three courtyards

The architect hopes that the project will make children feel welcome, particularly those that might struggle in a more institutionalised environment.

"We hope this new campus environment will help to foster a free and open spirit, building the students’ individuality and collective social life," she concluded.

"In every visit we've made to the school, we've seen genuine joy from the smiling faces of students running around the campus and that has been rewarding."

Photography is by Wu Qingshan unless otherwise stated.


Project credits

Architecture and interior design: Open Architecture
Design team: Li Hu, Huang Wenjing, Ye Qing, Tan Qingjun, Shi Bingjie, Liu Xiaoyang, Cao Mengxing, Daijiro Nakayama, Lu Di, Wang Mengmeng, Zhang Hao, Zhou Tingting, Lin Jingran, Yang Ling, Li Mai, Lin Bihong, Chen Xiuyuan, Zhu Tianming, Zhou Xiaodan, Ye Ning, GUO Junchen, Qin Mian, Liu Xunfeng, Li Lingna
Local design institute: Shanghai Yuangou Design and Consultants, CABR Technology
Interior design institute: Shanghai Xian Dai Architectural, Decoration & Environment Design Institute
Landscape design: Open Architecture
Curtain wall consultant: CABR Technology
Theatre/acoustic consultant: Shanghai Net Culture Development

More images

Site plan of Shanghai Qingpu Pinghe International School by Open Architecture
Site plan
3D diagram of Shanghai Qingpu Pinghe International School by Open Architecture
3D diagram
Classrooms
Classrooms
Classrooms
Classrooms
Gym-canteen
Gym-canteen
Gym-canteen
Gym-canteen
Admin building
Student dorms
Student dorms
Arts centre
Arts centre
Kindergarten