Chaoyang Future School is a high school campus of Peking University in Beijing, China. It is the latest iteration of Peking University’s pedagogic model for China’s future creators– a continued exploration with Crossboundaries to manifest places and spaces that embody their collective vision.
Renovated from an existing campus of derelict buildings built in the 1980s, Future School achieves renewed relevance by employing two key approaches. ‘The conventional’ describes an overall upgrade of the outdated, degraded facility into a modern campus, and ‘the unconventional’ consists of strategically placed architectural interventions: unique, adaptable, and cooperative learning spaces that stimulate more effective learning.
Modern China has a delicate relationship with its own history. The sudden transformation of an ancient culture into an economic leader forced the nation to abandon much of its collective wisdom, ushering in a fascination with progress as interpreted through a western lens. However, there is a growing desire to translate the strong cultural history of China into new paradigms, and transform collectivist thinking to cultivate Chinese students as independent, innovative thinkers on the global stage.
Future school inherits a piece of the built environment created in the rapid development of a newly globalized China. For the headmaster, the challenge of rethinking the nature of Chinese education is to leverage new and innovative methods without losing the virtues of historical thinking. Crossboundaries’ objective works in parallel: to reuse and reimagine, increasing the lifespan of the existing buildings to restore their relevance and purpose.
The six densely arranged buildings of the campus were full of faceless corridors and rooms lacking identity, coherence, or connection. Deteriorating, rust-colored stucco, unkempt ivy, inconsistent retrofitting and haphazard electrical wiring covered each building, and lent the campus a somber and institutional atmosphere.
The renovated facade preserves the rhythm of the original fenestrations, as projecting frames undulate in response to the corresponding activities within. Larger pop-out windows broadcast the main entrances and new, double-height spaces. Puncturing a restored, clean white surface, the frames are washed in colors inspired by the flora of the original campus to sustain the liveliness of the outdoor spaces and bring them deep into the buildings. Green hues outline the public face of campus, subtly fading yellow before warming to a deep red as they reach the campus center. This gesture provides a layer of identity, orientation and wayfinding – both for the campus as a whole and for the individual buildings, whose interior spaces mirror the palette of their respective facades.
The completely redesigned interiors are given freedom to breathe. Previously confined spaces are opened up with new connections that allow for activities and subjects to crossover. Architectural interventions – made possible with structural reinforcements – open floors and walls to expand volumes and give way to new opportunities for creativity and inspiration.
In the Learning Center, previously dark, double-loaded classroom corridors are opened up. Certain classrooms are lined with glass, some have deployable walls, and others are completely open – allowing the school to develop new curricula and employ innovative, open-source educational models.
Subject-specific ‘islands’ develop several functioning zones out of a singular open space on each floor. Vertical ‘bridges’ remove strategic portions of floor slab and beams to connect related subjects on adjacent floors with double-height, multifunctional activity spaces. Each intervention works to dissolve the spatial boundaries of the buildings’ rigid structure and uniformity, producing collaborative learning spaces bolstered by user-defined, modular furniture.
A newly landscaped gathering place in the center of campus is made possible by removing a dilapidated building and car park. Combined with an extended running track that loops around the primary Learning and Art Centers, the new central courtyard emphasizes crossover and collaboration. Even at the very edge of campus, a boundary fence becomes a space: a living interaction with the city beyond to serve both utility and play. The design optimizes each space to bring every element of the program to life – endorsing a campus life that facilitates continuous learning around every corner.
Chaoyang Future School demonstrates not only the potential of reuse but also a reminder of the responsibility to work resourcefully – to engage the embedded values of the existing, whether they be social, economic, or environmental. The spirit of flexibility, interconnectedness and identity generates more than new uses, functions and values; it represents an evolution within the lifespan of an architecture and the resilience to adapt over time.
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.