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Shanfeng Academy

Situated in a new district of Suzhou city, the Shanfeng Academy will serve as the campus-center for a new K-12 international school and will also act as a cultural hub for the local community. 

Historically, the city of Suzhou was synonymous with high culture and elegance. Generations of artists, scholars, and writers in China were drawn to the poetic beauty of its gardens with their combination of rocks, water, trees, and pavilions, reflecting the Chinese appreciation of balance and harmony. Now an innovative metropolis and an important business center, Suzhou is striving to build itself into a hub of international talent, industry, and information. The challenge for OPEN was to create a major new urban project whilst being sympathetic to the heritage of the city. 

Li Hu and Wenjing Huang, founders of OPEN, say of the design:
Finding radical strategies to deal with the complex and practical challenges, while creating architecture of poetic spirit deeply connected to the local cultural tradition, is at the heart of this project.


As the campus center serving nearly 2000 students, Shanfeng Academy will provide the essential and shared facilities of the school. More specifically, it will include a library, an art center, a gymnasium, a swimming pool, a grand theater of 1000 seats, a black box theater, and a forum.

Considering the intensity of the functional programmes and the high concentration of users—from kindergarten children to high-schoolers, architectural practice OPEN decided to divide one massive building into five individual buildings interconnected by covered walkways. By breaking down the mass and pulling them apart, voids are created in the form of four gardens and semi-outdoor spaces. The well-connected walkways easily accommodate the large number of students moving between different activities even during rainy days which are abundant in Suzhou. The gardens act as buffer zones between masses of high-density reflecting Suzhou’s own garden heritage.

The gardens are designed around the four seasons, plants are selected accordingly to accentuate the traces of time. Elements of classical Suzhou gardens, such as scholar rocks, traditional pavement patterns, and the use of water, are carefully integrated into the gardens. There is also an unnamed fifth garden on the rooftop of the walkways planted with tall grasses and herbs—a pleasant retreat and social gathering place for students and teachers, it is linked to the main classroom building through a short bridge.


The architects worked closely with the campus planning firm which is also the local design institute for the project to place the campus center on the main street. The building itself replaces a large portion of the fence that encloses the school campus for student safety. 

While acting as the interface between the school and the city, the campus center is also able to share its many facilities with the local community when the school is not in session, creating a close bond between the two. A café and a courtyard on the ground floor facing the street offer a pleasant place for parents waiting to pick up their children.
All spaces have natural lighting and natural ventilation to enhance indoor comfort while reducing energy consumption. 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. 

OPEN hopes that the campus center can become a new type of cultural hub combining the city’s rich cultural heritage with the contemporary dimension of this newly urbanized neighbourhood.

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