Through United Design Group’s investigation of their context and analysis of the program, they identified, organized and prioritized the four functions inside the school with this “sequence”: public area, education area, living area, and sport facilities, in order to optimize the circulation and the time of students, teachers and guests. The main goal was the integration of the system with the landscape. To do so, they took into account as a valuable reference the Suzhou Gardens Style, in which the water plays a significant role, trying to interpret it in a modern way. More images and architects’ description after the break.
At urban scale we identified those which, we think, are its main features: the vast water system and its international character due to a long time economic relationships with foreign companies. At a local scale, the site is marked by the presence of the planned Fuqua Business School (designed by Gensler) South and North West by the canal system and the Highway Exit. They also had the necessity of maintaining a link with the former school located downtown, especially the characteristic red bricks volumes of the old classroom, West and East Building; and with the former Library, in particular its denomination.
Most of the public school that we have visited had always two elements in common, a overscaled square right after the main entrance, usually empty, with no trees, no benches or students(!) with the Administration Building standing as the background of it, more to impress the “special” guests of the school then useful to the students. The first thought has been to scale it down but it had to be big enough to host the everyday Flag Ceremony where students and professors have to participate. We have recognized to the school the role of preparing and educating the students and expressed this priority throughout the Library, which become the Focus of the master plan replacing the Administration Building.
This centrality has been emphasized throughout the intensive use of water that isolates the Library on three of its sides, while the inclined plaza that signs the entrance is organized with three different elements: a) an outdoor amphitheater for various type of performances (cinema, theater) on the left; b) the staircase to the main entrance in the middle; c) a systems of ramps for its full accessibility, on the right side.
The Library itself becomes a bridge (other characteristic element in the Chinese landscape and in Kunshan in particular) that binds the 750 seats Auditorium (a connection at two different levels -5.00 m and 0.00 m) and the classroom blocks (10 m wide bridges at 0.00 m level). The idea of the shape in the skylights comes from early sketches, in which we were trying to combine the seats of the auditorium with reading rooms and a system of natural lighting.
The important waterscape that isolates the building slowly flows from 0.00 to -5.00m throughout steps forming three ponds at different levels named after the three treasures of Kunshan: the Kunshan Stone Pond at the same level of the library; the Jade Flower Pond at -2.50m; the Twin Lotus Flower Pond. Around the square between our focus and the entrance, we have organized the first Area of the sequence in the program zoning: the Public Area; where are located the Administration building on the west side and the Concert Hall, with its foyer facing the main square, East.
This last building is the link with the Education Area, throughout the white volume in which we have placed the classrooms dedicated to music, dancing and arts. The clock tower signs the beginning of the secondary axis (students mainly) connecting the classroom’s blocks, which keep the orientation and the image of the former school: West and East Building with intensive use of red bricks.
As mentioned the choice of the red bricks for the classroom block was a tribute to the former school that was located downtown, during interviews with former students, that was a point that kept popping up. The classrooms are organized in E shape type blocks, facing each other and forming small courtyards where labs occupy part of it. On their roofs take place terraces, social spaces for the students.
A special attention has been used in the design of these blocks’s roof, starting from the image of the traditional Chinese pitched roof and combining it with technical needs (location of the HAVC machinery underneath it, PV panels over it – if approved – and ventilation). The Canteen signs the second overlap of the functions, the barycenter between the Education Area and the Living one, where we laid out the student’s dorms, the teacher’s one and the ICCC(a sort of residence for foreign students and visitors).
Once again the water plays an important role, a filter between students and teachers to whom accommodation we gave a special importance. This stream of water should resemble that of a typical waterfront view along Kunshan city. The Canteen signs also the beginning of the bending of the 12m wide path that connects the classrooms with the Gym and sign the fourth and last Area including the sport facilities (in China usually there is a direct connection between classrooms and gym which the students have to cover running).
The choice of the location of the running track seems natural, either for the shape of the site but also due to the presence of the highway exit. It becomes a buffer zone to screen the noise of the traffic. We identified three main axis to cross the system. Along the west side of the library, the public axis that directly connects the main square with the gym and crosses the main Auditorium on its path.
A second mixed central axis (visitors and students) between the classroom’s blocks and the library connects the whole system and the student’s axis that connects classrooms, canteen and dormitories.
Architects: United Design Group (UDG China)
Location: Kunshan, China
Design Leader: Simone De Gradi
Design Team: Hu Wei, Feng Hai Hua, Wang Wei Shi
Site Area: 200,100 m²
Total Constructed Area: 84,197 m²
Building Footprint: 30,962 m²
Underground Parking Area: 3000 m²
Green Rate: 46%