Shiwulihe Middle School & Primary School


The new elementary and middle school campuses for the Shiwulihe District in the Southwest of the city center in Hefei are located on two sites in the midst of a new high-density residential neighborhood on neighboring urban blocks.

The elementary school is located on the northern site and the middle school on the southern. Both schools share the basic principle of north-south oriented classroom bars with a minimum distance of 25m, generating courtyard spaces in between. It was the urban goal to create a fluent transition between the public entrance side and the more private yard side with its sports fields, in order to maximize the open yard space usability and make circulation on the site continuous around the classroom buildings. Therefore we located the main entrances on Xidi road, which both schools share. It was our belief to locate the main entrances on the superior road, in order to achieve a public presence, whereas in both cases the side entrance for delivery, staff and teachers is located in the northern side roads of each site.

The elementary school will house 36 classes whereas the middle school will hold 48 classes. The intention of the design approach is to conceptually relate these two schools to one another, while find distinct differences in the interpretation for each. The commonality of the design approach underlines the neighborhood identity with a recognizable and distinct design language, while both have different interpretations and attributes to distinguish their own identity. Both schools will offer stimulating educational and playful environments in the dense urban fabric, but each will be designed to specific needs of students in their age group. Scale and proportion are different, as well as the complexity of the landscape features as important and characteristic differentiating element.

The primary goal of the design strategy is to accentuate a dual learning environment --interior and exterior learning; academic and playful learning- into an all encompassing vertically rising, three-dimensional landscape. Public outdoor areas are invigorated with dynamic elements --balconies, terraces, and courtyards and seating steps-- to provide recreation and active learning spaces, while balancing the rigid structure of interior classroom learning, harnessing the mutually beneficial relationship between learning and recreation.

Both buildings will offer a variety of public functions on the ground level, such as the entrance hall, the gymnasium a dining hall and a library.

In order to maximize the open play area, a stimulating landscape of stairs and balconies, roof terraces and accessible podiums connect to courtyards and larger playgrounds. This strategy not only recognizes the space limitations of the sites, but also in return offers shaded outdoor playground areas and allows therefore for more green areas on the site.

In both campuses the use of the gymnasium roof, large communicational seating stairs and other accessible send floor areas allow direct access from the first and second floors, connecting the classrooms more directly to the school yard.

Communication and interactivity is the common goal of the projects and encompasses also the exterior access walkways of the classroom bars. The linear main circulation of the classrooms is enhanced by staggered and cantilevering communal balconies, encouraging visible interaction between the students on different levels of the classroom bars as well as the landscape below.

In result, the landscape, together with the public access areas in the teaching bars form a programmed, three-dimensional and sculptural inhabited outdoor space.

The goal of the multiple level landscape design, which encompasses all floors, is to provide a unique place within the school that encourages interaction between the students and teachers through their daily learning and teaching life.

The rich mix of the special complexity of the programmed landscape contrasts the clear organization and circulation of the classroom layout. The interplay between these two characters offers an alternative to the typical school campus with hierarchical spatial organization and symmetrical movements. Here, the classrooms offer an environment of concentration and learning, whereas the public spaces allow for play and stimulation, discovery and invention.

The facades of the buildings are intended to clearly communicate the progressive attitude of educational institutions, contemporary learning and teaching methods as well as an open minded and advanced attitude towards the urban environment. Light and friendly façade materials with colorful accents complement the residential neighborhood and allows the campus to clearly identify itself as a center of learning for school children. The two buildings speak a common language, but clearly differentiate themselves from one another by proportion and level of formality as well as the color scheme to express their individual identity and the level of school.

The Elementary School

The elementary school with its 4 floors is most distinguished by the warm orange colored accents, such as canopies, balconies and window treatments. The main façade of the teaching bars are clad in a scale-like metal cladding, creating a vibrant play of light and shadow on the large facades. The outward projected windows with orange colored frames are reflected in the metal shingle façade, contributing to the vibrancy and colorplay in the façade.

The modestly proportioned entrance is accentuated with a clearly recognizable gateway, providing a sheltered area in the entrance plaza. The form of the gateway should remind the visitor of traditional village entrances, a clearly defined threshold to a small community. The orange interior color of the entrance gateway is welcoming and friendly and expresses itself as simple and determined gesture towards the public and the urban realm.

The decorative plaza trees contribute to the formal nature on the urban side of the campus, which is in contrast to the meandering and playful green areas of the playground.

The common play yard is organized through a composition of small and large spaces, elevated areas, and accessible roofs of the gymnasium and library. Large stairs are designed to sit on, but also function as access to elevated areas and direct access from the second floor. All areas in the outdoor area allow for alternatively complex but also as direct circulation, creating an simulating environment with plenty of possibilities for inventive play. The orange balconies allow communication between floors and to the play area below.

The Middle School

Five floors and an entrance canopy, which reminds us of traditional wood frame construction of larger and important buildings, characterize the more ‘adult’ building of the larger middle school. The Middle School has a clear and distinct identity through accented elements in a fresh lime green. The entrance canopy, as well as balconies and accentuated window frames set them apart from the reflective metal clad façade of the larger masses of the building. The intention is to create an exciting and vibrant tension between the rigid and large facades of the main building masses and the interactive elements of the common areas.

In contrast to the elementary school, the middle school presents itself to the city in a stately urban manner, clearly signifying its public role and responsibility. The spacious plaza offers waiting areas for parents with sitting opportunities as well as extended play area for the students. The decorative Pollarded London Planes as characteristic plaza trees contribute to the formal nature on the urban side of the campus, which is in contrast to the stepped landscape on the private side, where we take advantage of the three-meter drop in the topography to create interesting and differentiated green spaces and play areas.

The building offers a variety of public functions on the ground level, such as the grand entrance hall, a dining hall, the gymnasium and a library. These common functions are strategically located in direct interaction with the landscape and differentiated playground and courtyard spaces. In order to maximize the open play area and to create a maximum of interactivity between the public spaces and the landscape, the classrooms are located in functional teaching bars, elevated above the ground level.

The vertical separation of the public functions and the classrooms allows for the implementation of multiple landscape layers connecting the lower and upper floors through ramps and generous landscape stairs as communicative elements. The roofs of the library, the dining hall and the gymnasium are accessible from within the building as well as from the play area and therefore contribute to the variety of differentiated outdoor activity areas

Integrated Aesthetic and Environmental Concept

The common language of both buildings is expressed through the durable metal shingle façades, which form the background to a rich landscaping of the sites. Differentiated character zones of individually selected tree and plant species form a harmonious overall concept of integrity and stimulating relationships.

As part of the overall landscape concept for the campus, green roofs are implemented on the teaching bars. The green roofs follow the intention to maximize the vegetated and pervious surfaces, which are not only visually pleasing but also to resemble a green sanctuary in the city. However, even more so the strategy contributes to the improvement of our environment. The reduction of the heat island effect and mitigation of storm water occurrences are only a few characteristics of the sustainable concept. Additional direct benefits are the reduction of energy cost and storm water challenges. In lieu of a green roof, a total of 5000 m2 of roofscape offers alternatively an ideal area for photovoltaic panels, which esthetically would also harmonize with the façades.

Building Type: Middle School & Primary School
Hefei, Anhui Province, China
City Government of Hefei
Service: Architectural Design
Site Area:
    Middle School 4.0 ha / 9.9 acres
    Primary School 2.0 ha / 5.1 acres
Floor Area:
    Middle School 25,419 sqm / 273,608 sqft

    Primary School 12,481 sqm / 134,344 sqft
June 2015

Lars Gräbner, Christina Hansen, Shaoxuan Dong, Yinan Bu

Local Design Institute: China Railway Hefei Institute of Architectural & Municipal Engineering Design Co.LTD. (HFADI)