Bridging Education: Connecting an Urban Campus for Future Generations
Efficiency Lab for Architecture PLLC, a firm comprising a team of architects, planners, designers, and educators committed to a better understanding of efficiency in the built environment, is proud to announce the completion of an Early Learning Center in Shenzhen, China, the first school building of an innovative Avenues Shenzhen Campus master plan. The project marks the 5th collaboration between Efficiency Lab and Avenues: The World School, an organization dedicated to providing transformative, world-focused learning experiences to students around the globe.
“We have developed an organic relationship with Avenues over the past four years, and that has included joint research in the education sector,” says Aybars Asci, AIA, LEED, President of Efficiency Lab. “Many factors derived from that research have been incorporated into the Shenzhen project, including bridges, canopies, portals, thresholds, niches, and an overall focus on the importance of architecture in education.”
Tanglang Industrial Zone is one of the few remaining underdeveloped “urban villages” of Nanshan District in Shenzhen. As opposed to a previous strategy of tearing down and building anew, the government has shifted its focus to projects that embrace the adaptive reuse of existing structures. The area is now slated for redevelopment as an education and research zone, and Efficiency Lab is at the heart of the master planning, architectural design, interior design, and furnishings of an urban campus comprised of seven existing industrial buildings to be connected by bridges above the city’s public streets. In addition to connecting the structures through a series of elevated walkways, each rooftop of the campus buildings will be landscaped and will include playgrounds, outdoor learning spaces, and gardens.
“The elevated walkways will continue to be built over the next two years and will connect all seven buildings of the campus together,” explains Asci. “As a result, students will safely be able to access all of the facilities via an experiential pedestrian circulation network.”
Avenues Shenzhen Early Learning Center was based on the adaptive reuse of a three-story warehouse and parking lot. Efficiency Lab approached the project from the perspective of strategic subtraction and addition, which included making very precise cuts in the existing building to create greater connectivity. The concept of ‘connections’ forms the heart of the project, from physical connections in the form of bridges and pedestrian walkways to visual connections enabled by carefully choreographed atriums strategically carved from the existing warehouse structure.
The first strategic addition that will connect the Early Learning Center to other buildings on the campus is a bridge that has been built to pass through a series of existing banyan trees, providing a unique and inspirational path for entering the facility. Vertical playgrounds descend from the connector bridge, forming a sort of rooftop treehouse environment that weaves among the root structure of the trees. The bridge immerses students in the beauty of the surrounding environment, helping to nurture feelings of empathy towards nature.
Inside the Early Learning Center, multi-level atria were cut from floor slabs of the existing building, creating a series of openings arranged to provide diagonal views across all three floors. The main atrium is centered in the middle of the floor plate, infusing natural light into the building. The concept of connections continues throughout the interior, with color-coded learning pods, thresholds, and niches providing children with the duality of partial seclusion and visual connectivity. Glazed walls provide writable surfaces in a fun and interactive learning zone created around the main atrium, while ‘keyhole’ pods serve as gateways from one zone to another.
“We’re proud to be providing the children of Shenzhen with a playful learning environment that is woven into the urban fabric of the city,” says Asci. “The Early Learning Center is a shining example of adaptive reuse, and a precursor for even greater things to come as the campus is completed.”