Open architecture in Suzhou
Founded by New York architectural practice OPEN and based in Beijing, she revealed the design for Shanfeng Academy’s project that came out at the end of April. Located in a new district in Suzhou, the building will serve as the campus center for a new K-12 international school and will also serve as a cultural center for the local community.
Historically, Suzhou has been synonymous with high culture and elegance. Generations of artists, scholars, and writers in China have been drawn to the poetic beauty of its gardens with their mixture of rocks, water, trees, and pavilions, reflecting China’s appreciation for balance and harmony.
Now an innovative city and an important commercial center, Suzhou is striving to build itself into a center for international talent, industry and information. The challenge for OPEN was to create a large new urban project with sympathy for the city’s heritage.
solid and void
Designed by OPEN (see more here), the campus center at Shanfeng Academy will host approximately 2,000 students, and provide basic and common facilities for the school. More specifically, it will include a library, arts center, gymnasium, swimming pool, 1,000-seat grand theatre, black box theater and main studio.
Given the intensity of functional programs and the high concentration of students – from kindergarten children to high school students – OPEN architectural practice has divided one massive building into five individual buildings that are interconnected by covered walkways.
By dismantling and separating the mass, the spaces are created as four gardens and semi-outdoor spaces. Well-connected corridors easily accommodate a large number of students who switch between different activities even during the rainy days which are abundant in Suzhou. The gardens act as buffer zones between high-density blocks that reflect the heritage of Suzhou Private Garden.
Gardened Shanfeng Academy Building
The gardens are designed around the four seasons, and the plants are selected accordingly to highlight the traces of time. Elements of classic Suzhou gardens, such as scholars’ rocks, traditional paving patterns and water use, are carefully incorporated into the gardens. There is also an unnamed fifth garden on the roof of footpaths planted with tall grasses and herbs – a pleasant retreat and social gathering place for students and teachers, linked to the main classroom building by a short bridge.
A space for both the school and the community
The architects worked closely with the campus planning firm which is also the project’s local design institute to position the campus center on Main Street. The building itself replaces much of the fencing that surrounds the campus for the safety of students.
While serving as an interface between the school and the city, the Campus Center can also share many of its facilities with the local community when the school is not in session, creating a close bond between the two. The cafe and patio on the ground floor facing the street provides a nice place for parents waiting to pick up their children.