Qingyijiang Road Elementary School / TAO (Trace Architecture Office)
Text description provided by the architects. Qingyijiang Road Elementary School is located on a 90 mu site with buildings of about 30,000 square meters. Compared to schools in densely populated cities such as Shenzhen, the project has a relatively loose location constraint with a plot ratio of about 0.5. Under such circumstances, we create a new school paradigm that differs from traditional systems.
Low-rise, high-density. To comply with urban planning regulations, traditional classrooms have more than four floors. Therefore, the great distance to the playground on the ground floor is inconvenient for the students to go to. With a low floor area ratio, we reduce the height of the building and the distance between classrooms and open spaces. It allows the students to easily perform outdoor activities or be quickly evacuated in case of emergency such as earthquake or fire. The design takes a “low-rise and high-density” approach and the two-storey teaching block spreads out horizontally to form a “mat building”.
Decentralization. Located in a new urban area, the site is square in shape and surrounded by residential areas. As a typical tabula rasa, it is well organized but poorly characterized. Taking into account the factors of circulation, sound and light, we divide the teaching block and the residential block (including an auditorium, a dining hall, a student house, etc.) on the east and west sides of the playground, which are independent of each other.
For the division of the lesson block, we try to create a unique system that is different from traditional schools. Centralized paradigms in traditional schools are designed for public events, which are in fact often held in the playground or auditorium. It is therefore not necessary to create a central point within the educational area, but decentralized nodes.
Based on this concept and location conditions, we create a decentralized network within the plan. Units of the program, including classrooms, courtyards and platforms, are arranged on an orthogonal grid to form an interwoven system. It is a paradigm of continuity, proliferation, homogeneity, openness, equality and penetration. Classrooms, platforms and courtyards are connected by corridors, eliminating the sense of isolation and forming a spatial system of interaction.
Each grade block group with three standard classrooms and three grade blocks enclose a public platform. There are courtyards between grade groups, so each classroom is surrounded by natural and interactive spaces.
The raised ground. In the two-storey education building, a raised platform divides 54 classrooms between the upper level and functional classrooms on the lower level. Elevated courtyards have been laid out in each classroom, which are convenient for students to run and watch the sky during recess. The elevated courtyards become hubs of interaction in different grades.
Those elevated courtyards are connected to the first floor by ramps and stairs of various shapes. The large continuous steps connect the second floor to the playground and serve as stands with a view of the sports field on the west side.
Roof and light. Children spent most of their time on campus in standard classrooms, so spatial quality is paramount. Most traditional classrooms are divided vertically and can only get limited daylight through the side windows. The design arranges all classrooms on the second floor, the top floor, with access to natural light from the roof. Based on the age characteristics and learning styles of the students in different classes, we design 6 types of roofs for each of them. Classrooms with different roofs receive natural light in different ways, creating rich spatial experiences that are relaxing or serious, lively or intense. Each student will have different learning environments throughout the six years of study. We hope that these bright and high classrooms, such as art galleries, can bring joy, creativity and imagination to students. With several rhythmically arranged roofs, the overall appearance of the school is like a cluster of huts in fairy tales.
Climate and Construction. The school’s grid layout allows most of the classrooms to have a shallow depth, enhancing natural ventilation in the hot and humid climate of Sichuan Province. The sloping roofs with skylights form a natural drainage system and are also cooling and energy-saving. In addition, the corridors between the classroom and the courtyard serve as a buffer space for shade and protection from wind and rain, and the semi-outdoor areas on the first floor also provide additional activity areas for students, even in bad weather.
We chose the steel structure to adapt to the unitary characteristic of the building and the prefabricated assembly that favors its rapid completion (the project was originally planned to be completed in one year, but unfortunately was not realized due to funds, management and the building unit). The roof has a titanium-zinc standing seam roof system and the ceiling material is perforated plasterboard for sound absorption. We originally applied stone to the wall on the first floor and painted it on the second floor to emphasize the contrast of heaviness and lightness. The stone was later changed to a stone-like coating due to cost constraints.
Summary. This design explores the decentralized school system, which can be summarized as: parallel† Parallel means equality, non-hierarchy, freedom and diversity. In addition, the roof and the incidence of light provide a unique spatial experience. That is why we call it a school of parallel and light.
This is a school about parallel and light. The school spreads freely in a horizontal direction on the extensive grounds and becomes a “mat building”. The two-storey teaching block consists of the “platform” (functional classrooms) on the first floor and the “huts” (standard classrooms) on the second floor. The raised platform offers more outdoor spaces, making it easier for the students to engage in outdoor activities during recess. The huts with different shapes of roofs paint a fairytale view of the settlements. Internally, the skylight creates a soft and interesting classroom space. The design of the roof and lighting strategy is based on the age characteristics of students and learning styles of different grades. As such, students will have different spatial experiences of classrooms throughout the six years of study. In the floor plan, 54 classes are divided into six grades, each with a courtyard as the center for fun and activities. Classrooms and courtyards are connected by common corridors and form a uniform grid layout in the teaching block. There is no hierarchy or clear center in the layout where students can move and play freely. Huts, platforms, courtyards, trees and people, together they create a diverse and interesting urban landscape. It is our wish that this school could be like a city, nurturing imagination, freedom and wonders. —— HUA Li