Soyoo Joyful Growth Center
At Soyoo Joyful Growth Center, children choose their own journey and claim a new education in the process. By learning from and with each other, children develop their imaginations which will later become foundational tools for critical, creative, and innovative thinking.
A system that has long relied on rigorous curricula and a prioritization of the hard sciences, public education in China is responsible for much of the nation’s success in economic and infrastructural development; however, a relative lack of creative thinking and innovation can also be attributed to these attitudes. In a uniquely collaborative partnership, Soyoo Enterprise and Crossboundaries worked together to develop a one-of-a-kind program – striving to make a difference in contemporary Chinese education by focusing on early childhood development.
Since 2002, the overpopulated city of Zhengzhou has been developing a new financial center on its outskirts in China’s Central Plains Economic Region. The Zhengdong New Area, once dubbed one of China’s largest ‘ghost districts’ by international media, witnessed the false start often characteristic of satellite cities. In recent years, however, the city has begun to resolve its spatial mismatch as businesses, universities, and residents flow into the once abandoned ‘new town.’
The Soyoo Joyful Growth Center completely transforms a 28,000sqm round building; one of a derelict triumvirate abandoned before it was ever inhabited. Given the limitations of the building’s exterior, large scale and structural constraints, Crossboundaries’ design produced a number of specialized solutions, each of which fed into the concept of the building as a center of holistic education – one that actively cultivates each child’s distinct character and interest, healthy relationships, and knowledge of the world.
Five major interventions cut through the building at various angles, deliberately breaking the rigidness of the floor plates. These colored ‘tubes’ act as equal parts circulation and program, providing distinctive experiences and unlimited, alternative, and playful exploration. As a navigational tool, they encourage and inspire discovery through different parts of the building.
A child begins in a colored tube, allowing his intuition and imagination to guide him through various fields of knowledge and explore their interconnections. No two experiences are the same, opening up a multitude of journeys and a universe of knowledge and social interaction.
Each floor contains dedicated program and reciprocal support for the activities in the tubes. The ground floor, an open extension of the public lobby and plaza, houses play frames, children’s retail stores, and a fan-shaped swimming pool area. The second floor utilizes an open plan layout to enable an innovative program based on role-playing. With spaces to support art, music, dance, geography and more, flowing into one another without barriers, children are given the agency to build imaginative connections between subjects in a broader context. Teachers encourage role-play and empower the children to learn more about their interests as they enthusiastically find links between them.
These experimental learning spaces extend to the third floor, which also hosts a planetarium, greenhouse, and the Soyoo-operated kindergarten. The fourth floor roof access provides a running track and playground, underlining the importance of play in every educational mission.
In order to preserve a relationship with the other two buildings in the development, the municipality required that the façade of Joyful Growth Center remain partially visible. Using this constraint to develop an innovative and effective solution, Crossboundaries designed a system of lightweight ropes spanning from roof to ground. A custom construction system installed two diagonal layers of the ropes to soften the building’s rigid and unapproachable boundary, while preserving its access to rich natural light – and creating a new layer of space along its footprint. The ropes’ colors mirror the palette of the interior, providing consistent orientation as the building lent itself to a natural color scheme: a color wheel. Visitors can weave around and between the old façade and the new, touching the ropes as they vibrate with the wind.
Easily accessible from all sides of the site, a newly renovated landscape gives public space back to the community. Abundant seating and planting provides a pleasant environment around the building – a plaza not just for Soyoo visitors, but for the city.
The Soyoo Joyful Growth Center invigorates, finally, a neighborhood that struggled to develop. Its intriguing educational program and public spaces attract a flow of people as businesses and neighboring retail spaces open up all around it. The renovation instills purpose and connection within the community, but most importantly, it encourages children to discover their passions, follow each thread, and find their own way.
Crossboundaries contributes to a vital built and social environment through the broad field of design and the subject of architecture, from urban planning to graphic design, from teaching to consultancy, events curation and research. We create enduring products that often deal with remarkable technical processes and always have an engaging human relationship.
Founded in 2005 and organized as an international partnership, Crossboundaries has staff originating from and trained in Asia, Europe, North and South America with offices in Beijing, China and Frankfurt, Germany. We provide unique spatial solutions deriving from local cultural knowledge and transnational expertise.
After receiving their Masters Degrees in Architecture from Pratt Institute, founders DONG Hao and Binke Lenhardt worked in New York for several years before making their home in China. After working in the Beijing Institute of Architectural Design (BIAD) they founded Crossboundaries in 2005.