Whittle School

Renzo Piano Building Workshop as Architects in collaboration with China Construction Design International (Shenzhen) and Greentown Orient Architects (Hangzhou)

This building represents the first Whittle School & Studios project in China and will be part of a system of 30 WSS campuses in the World’s leading cities.


The new school is in the centre of Qianhai Mawan Development in Shenzhen, a completely new district risingfrom reclaimed land. The site is on a 10,400 sqm plot, conveniently situated and bordered on the North/East by the new urban public park.The site is surrounded by residential and commercial towers reaching up to 150m, some of which are currently under construction. Low-rise buildings are located along the district park where there will be more public activities.


The Whittle School & Studios has been designed to be a place for 2,200 students to learn and grow.


The 58,000 sqm school is organised into two buildings. The main building is 32m highwith afootprint of 70m by 70m and isorganized on ten floors, eight above ground and two below. The 18m-high central volume is levitating 6m above grade and its mass is broken up into eightblocks.The ground and three upper floors are set back to emphasize the volume of the middle four levels. A smaller three-storey building sits just West, with a landscaped playground in front.


At the core of the design is the view that a school should be like an educational village. The school’s size and scale are comparable to that of a medieval hilltop Italian town made of singular buildings interacting with each other. As the medieval layout has a piazza for its residents to gather and meet, the programmatic blocks of the school are gathered around a central node of activities for the students’ social life.


The ground floor is 6m high andvisually transparent. It becomes a space where the building opens up to the external world and enables the students to interact with the communityin a safe environment. The public areasare alive throughout the day and open to the city after school hours when the performance spaces and athletic complex in the levels below become accessible to the public.


In the heart of this level, the central nexus of circulation stairs and atrium serves as a connecting point between the public spaces below and the academic incubator above.


The educational hub is organised on thefour middle levels. The first, Level Two, is a transitionalspace between the public area and the private school. There are ancillary program spaces, maker laboratories, and exhibition centres. They serve as learning spaces and lecture halls for students and the community.The remaining three floors each containa specific school: lower, middle, and high.Each schoolhastwenty-four classrooms 3,2m high and 70sqm in size,all located on the perimeter with a direct view to the outside.The main commons face the central stairsand receive natural daylight from above.


The kindergarten’s main entrance and common spaces are on the South side of the main ground floor with laboratories, gym, and a theatre - while the 18 dedicated learning studios are in the more intimate, separate building. All the studios face a private garden and playground. The connection between the buildings is through a glass house hosting experimental green laboratories.


Unlike other education facility models, the campus level of this school sits on top of the educational block, at Level Six, where the students can enjoy their dining and leisure time in a private place overlooking the park and the city. The perimeter terrace and central courtyard are planted with trees, shading these outdoor spaces. Furthermore, the roof above becomes a place for learning and sport activities complimenting the athletic complex below.


Conceptually the design of the WSS has been inspired by the simplicity, openness, and efficiency of a factory. Visually, the spaces have an industrial language with exposed services and structure. The whole building will be an interactive and nurturing space for future generations and will play a role in the holistic educational experience.


The openness andvisual transparencyprovide natural light and anexperiential connection to the community. It creates visual links between the spaces and creates a sense of belonging to the school and the outside world. Nature, in particular, inspires the students and improves their well-being. That is why the building footprint has been reduced to the minimum.This allows taller trees on the ground level, while smaller trees are placed on Level 6 along the perimeter and in the central courtyard and integrates the building within the new urban park.From above, the site becomes a natural appendix of the city’s green belt.


Daylight is priority in this school. During the day, controlled natural light fills the spacesentering the building through the intelligent glazed facades and the large central light-well over the stair. While in the evening, as the daylight fades, artificial lights gradually turn on and the school begins to glow like a magic lantern in the city.


Paired with the emphasis on light and transparency is a warm and welcoming approach to the interior design.The strategic use of colour creates a lively and joyful atmosphere, and stimulate the students’ creativity, especially at younger ages. A warm colour has been introduced on the main stairs, floors, and smaller elements such as the lighting features to enhance theirpublic functions. A warm plywood material has been selected for the interior furniture and flexible workable areas. A typical classroom has two large pinup plywood panels with sliding glass writing surfaces that create a frugal but practical spacefor different teaching methods: the students are invited to make, display, share, and debate.


The students play a central rolein their education and their comfort is essential. Learning happens in many ways and students will experience changes in the day andseason with passive building strategies like exterior shading, light filtration, and other embedded design elements. Hands-on learning spaces like the Glass House or visually connective central atrium provide unique opportunities to study the direct effects of their surroundings inan indoor / outdoor environment. Together the experience culminates in the building being an active participant in the teaching environment of the school.

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Project Credits
Structure, MEP, façade, lighting, acoustic
Architects in collaboration with China Construction Design International (Shenzhen) and Greentown Orient Architects (Hangzhou)
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