Situated in a new district of Suzhou, Shanfeng Academy is the Cultural and Sports Center for Mountain Kingston Bilingual School, it also serves the local community as an active cultural hub. The architect is deeply influenced by the Chinese landscape drawings that have intricately intertwined and the seemingly endless flow of time and space, especially in the intentionally un-inked areas which mitigate the changing views, space, and events. This is also a building that pays tribute to the traditional Suzhou Gardens while directly confronting contemporary urban and educational challenges—it strives to maximize spatial potential in order to accommodate the large user population with a wide range of activities, all in the confine of a rather small piece of land.
Abutting the main street and surrounded by monotonous urbanization, the architecture itself replaces the fences and encloses the campus as an inward-facing whole, shielded from the chaotic surroundings. On the other hand, this fence-less building is designed to be open to the city without compromising the school’s operation. As an interface between the school and the city, it shares many facilities with the neighborhood. The black box theater has a separate entrance, making it conveniently accessible to the public. The café faces the street and provides a pleasant meeting place. During school holidays, the theater, the sports center, and the swimming pool can all be open to the public.
The courtyard gardens allow air and light to permeate this whole building complex. One can always feel the comfortable breezes and birds chirping in the gardens. Natural lighting and natural ventilation play a huge role here to reduce energy consumption. The library requires no artificial lighting during the day. Cross ventilation is maximized to take advantage of the long free-cooling seasons in Suzhou’s mild climate. 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 resolve the problem of the traditional white plaster needing constant maintenance to prevent mildew formation and cracking. The imprinted wood grain gives the concrete surface a warm texture that invites touches.
Serving nearly 2000 students, Shanfeng Academy provides a diverse mix of cultural and sports programs, including theater, gallery, library, sports center, dance rooms, swimming pool, and café. Considering the intensity of the functional programs and the high density of users, the architect decided to break one massive building into five individual buildings connected by flat-roofed walkways. By breaking down and pulling apart, voids are created in the form of four gardens. Between the gardens and the solid volumes are the semi-outdoor walkways where the colonnades and their moving shadows define another kind of void. Atop the walkways, there is the fifth garden with carefully planted grasses and herbs—a pleasant retreat and gathering place, it also connects all the main functional spaces above and below. The gardens and the walkways—the precious voids that the architect intentionally carved out in a high-density campus—act as the un-inked areas in the traditional Chinese landscape drawings, providing breathable spaces, and allowing people to slow down and relax for a moment. The movements of light and shadows, the changing sky and clouds, the raindrops and falling leaves, occupy and enliven the voids. Moving through the building, the architecture becomes changing viewing frames with layer upon layer of foreground, middle ground, and background. Multiple threads of time and space coexist and continue to unfold, forming a rich spatial experience full of sensory details.
Through the architectural expression of ingenuity to interpret the ultimate aesthetic conception, the project pays tribute to tradition, integration, and innovation.
OPEN is an architecture office collaborating across different disciplines to practice urban design, landscape design, architectural design, and interior design, as well as the research and production of design strategies in the context of new challenges. We believe in the innovative power of architecture to transform people and the way they live, while striking a new balance between manmade and nature. OPEN was founded by LI Hu and HUANG Wenjing in New York City, and established the Beijing office in 2008.