Yancheng Foreign Language School (YCFLS) is a newly established school by adopting an existing middle school campus. In the face of increasing enrollment, YCFLS sought to build a new learning complex and simultaneously reflect the changing philosophies and values of a modern campus.
▲ 项目视频 ©直译建筑摄影
Yancheng, literally “Salt City” in Chinese, was a major producer of salt for two millennia. Due to the high demand for waterways to transport the salt, the city is riddled with rivers and canals. One of these rivers runs through the campus, dividing it into the Teaching Zone on the south and the Dorm Zone on the north.
Where would be the best location for the new building? The school originally considered the site in the grove on the west part of the campus. However, when we visited the campus, the first impression was that it felt empty and vast, and the teaching zone and the dorm zone were isolated by the river and the central plaza. If the new building were to be built in the grove site, it would not help the connectivity between the teaching zone and the dorm zone.
In addition, as a precious resource, the campus river was rarely taken advantage of to be part of the landscape scenery or outdoor experience. Most of outdoor spaces faced away from the river. We see the new building not only a space expansion, but also an opportunity to reorganize the existing campus structure and upgrade the overall campus experience.
A few new planning strategies became clear after discussion with the school.
Firstly, the grove site will not be selected. The new learning complex is to be built near the intersection of the campus east-west axis and the north-south axis. The characteristics of the east and west halves will be clearer. The main theme of the western half is nature and sports. The eastern half, hopefully with the new learning complex, will be a more intimate mixed compound for learning and living.
Secondly, around the new building site, pedestrian experience will be improved by adding new outdoor spaces such as ground level pilotis, walkway passages and waterfront platforms.
Thirdly, more public programs will be incorporated along the north-south axis to consolidate student services. On the ground level of the new building, there will be a multi-purpose auditorium, a student gallery, and the red-crowned crane museum which exhibits how these precious birds inhabit Yancheng’s seaside wetlands temporarily when they migrate south each winter.
The “covered bridge”, an archaic type that dates back centuries, functions both for crossing river and accommodating public activities. The Bridge Learning Center is conceived as a modern covered bridge, superimposed by a teaching building. The covered bridge provokes a sense of place and imagination to the teaching and learning activities, whereas the teaching building adds energy and pragmatism to the bridge.
So far, the design concept of a “Bridge Learning Center” has gradually taken shape. The new building is to be built over the river, which not only gains the new ground, but also directly enhance the connectivity between the both sides of the river, and make a more integral campus experience.
The main entry lobby of the building – the ‘bridgehead’ – is located on the south bank of the river, facing the central plaza. It also acts as the pre-function area of a 300-seat multi-purpose auditorium. Rising from the ground to the second level, the auditorium exposes its slope to form the image of a bridge.
Students and teachers take the main stair from the lobby, as if climbing “up the bridge”, and arrive at the public hall on the second floor. The building crosses the river on this level and merges with the teaching space on the north bank through a sky-lit atrium. The atrium provides diverse social and study areas for informal learning and collaboration outside of regular classrooms. It vertically connects the different levels by a continuous spiral cascading grand stair.
From the second level of the atrium, you can walk “down the bridge” through the north lobby, leading to the dorm zone. Stepping up in the atrium further, you could also access the rooftop terrace.
Against the background of today’s tremendous education reform in China, the Bridge Learning Center reflects a paradigm shift from a passive and rigid system to a more open and diversified, but also healthier and more balanced education ecology.
Students can easily enjoy the river view down below the windows while practicing in the piano rooms. The partially exposed bridge concrete structure in the art classroom, and the natural light from the ceiling skylight, let people truly be immersed in the moment and surrounding settings. During breaks, more students will walk out of the classrooms and come to the corridors along the river to rest. The riverside platform and the drawbridge form a cinematic setting, where students and teachers constantly walk by, and they are performers and audiences at once.
To overcome the structural challenges imposed by the bridge’s 25-m long span, we use three sets of pretensioned concrete trusses. Located on the third level with full floor height, the trusses hang the tension columns on the second level, while the pedestrian drawbridge is hung by eight thin steel rods. From the trusses to the tension columns and then to the steel rods, the structure members become lighter towards the river, matching the transparency needs of different levels.
On the third floor right above the river of the Bridge Learning Center are the most of art, music and piano practicing classrooms. The room partitions hide the truss structures partially, so the whole picture of the structure can not be perceived. This seems to challenge the conventional teaching space limits with uncertain boundaries. The use of tension columns makes the second level public hall open and transparent. An east-west view corridor, unobstructed above the river, provides an unprecedented perspective of the campus.
During the construction, Perform appointed site architects to participate the entire process. As a strict budget control project, quite a few tough implementations relied on the constant and timely communication through the site architects, such as the facade shading louver mock-up, the installation of aluminum composite metal panels at the bottom of the bridge, and the form-finding of the drop ceiling of the atrium.
The unique part is that the new building grows in an existing campus, surrounded by the attentions from its future users, which actually gave the building chances to improve itself. During the construction process, we received feedback from the students and teachers regarding the material selections and space uses. This also contributes the forming of the sense of a place.
After the project was completed, we came back to the school. A few young students walked by the drawbridge, as they saw the ducks and geese swimming in the river, they couldn’t help but start reciting the poem “geese, geese, geese, song of the Tiange...” The scene composed of students, animals, landscape and the building, was full of the vitality and youth of the campus.
As Martin Heidegger once said, “The bridge gathers the earth as landscape around the stream.” The Bridge Learning Center has become the central place of the campus. People enjoy hanging out around the drawbridge and open piloti area. It opens up a new world for students and teachers, where the relationship among human, nature and building is different from before.
The school named the new building “Innovation Center”. Many people may not know the name of the river was also called “Gexin River”, meaning innovation or revolution. The name’s origin is unclear, but probably came from the mass revolution movement of the 1950s and 1960s in China. It represents the unique spiritual power of that era. “The passage of time is just like the flow of water...” Perhaps when today’s Innovation Center straddles the Gexin River, the campus has begun her new journey in the mists of time.
摄影：直译建筑摄影 何炼、此间建筑摄影 赵奕龙