The architectural practice OPEN has revealed the design for the Shanfeng Academy, a project currently under construction that topped out at the end of April, marking the completion of its highest point. The new campus center, located in a new district of Suzhou city, will host a K-12 international school while also aiming to act as a cultural hub for the local community.
Surrounded by canals, the city of Suzhou is known for its historical gardens with temples, bridges, pavilions, and rock sculptures. These, along with traditional Chinese architecture sites, offer a counterpoint to the city’s active social life and fast-paced business sector. The challenge for OPEN architects was to create a large-scale urban project whilst being sympathetic to the heritage of the city.
The new Shanfeng Academy campus is designed to serve nearly 2000 students, from kindergarten children to high schoolers. In order to disperse the high concentration of users, architectural practice OPEN decided to divide the volume into five individual buildings, all of them interconnected by covered walkways. These allow a large number of students to move freely between activities, even during bad weather conditions. The campus center includes a library, an art center, a gymnasium, a swimming pool, a 1000-seat theater, a black box theatre, and a forum.
As a nod to the character of the city, four gardens are organized in the empty spaces between the campus buildings. Elements of classical Suzhou gardens, such as scholar rocks, traditional pavement patterns, and the use of water, are integrated into these outdoor and semi-outdoor spaces. The landscaping and selected plants also reflect changes in each of the four seasons. A fifth recreational space is organized on the rooftop as a retreat and social gathering place for students and teachers, as it links to the main classroom building through a short bridge.
The main campus center is placed at the edge of the main street, replacing a large portion of the fence enclosing the school to ensure student safety. This allows the campus to act as the interface between the school and the city and to open some of its functions to the larger community. Facilities facing the street, like the café and a courtyard, offer a place for parents to interact while waiting to pick up their children.
Board-formed white concrete is adopted for the building envelope, both to pay tribute to the white-wall-grey-roof traditional architecture of the Suzhou area, and to ensure lower maintenance costs and interventions. All interior spaces have natural light and ventilation that enhance indoor comfort and reduce energy consumption.
OPEN, an architectural practice based in Beijing, has expressed hopes that the campus center can become a new type of cultural hub combining the city’s rich cultural heritage with the contemporary dimension of this newly urbanized neighborhood. Other projects by the architects also aim to relate to the local communities, like the Chapel of Sound overlooking the mountainous rural area of the Jinshanling Great Wall or the Sun Tower in the Chinese coastal city of Yantai.
- Architects: OPEN
- Principals in Charge: LI Hu, HUANG Wenjing
- Project Team: SHI Bingjie, Daijiro Nakayama, JIA Ke, Ye Qing, FAN Jianglong (on-site), Giovanni Zorzi, HUANG Zetian, WANG Fengya, SHOU Chengbin, Crystal Kwan, LU Di, TANG Ziqiao, JIA Han, CAI Zhuoqun, CHEN Ruipeng
- Local Design Institute: Tongji Architectural Design (Group) Co., Ltd.
- Landscape Design: OPEN + Z'scape
- Theatre & Acoustic Consultant: JH Theatre Architecture Design Consulting Company
- Lighting Consultant: Gradient Lighting Design Inc.