Premises for a 21st century education
The educational system of the 21st century is facing a series of challenges that range from continuously transforming demographics, to new concepts of education -from self-organized learning to adaptive learning algorithms to health concerns- in our contemporary age. The main aim of this project is to provide a flexible platform based on the program provided by the competition office. In contrast to schools in the 20th century, this design strives to operate rather like a village than a megastructure. The ambition behind the Learning Village approach is to emphasize the communal aspects of the learning experience instead of the uniformity of large-scale school buildings. The approach takes cues from the historic lineages present in Eastern as well as Western structures about hill settlements, that gain advantages through its human scale, walkability, and healthy variation in the structure. The picturesque qualities of hill settlements are translated in this project using a process based on Artificial intelligence, more precisely, the language of poetry is utilized (literally, not metaphorically) as the basis for design on the site. The programmatic needs expressed in the competition brief provide the foundations to understand the massing on the site, which is in return subdivided into chunks and pieces by the ATTNGAN.
This Architecture was literally spoken into existence – Technological Incantations.
Artificial intelligence as a design driver
In recent years architecture design has entered the field of designing with the aid of artificial intelligence. This project is a pioneering example of the use of artificial intelligence as a driving force of design. Based on pragmatic criteria such as the allover massing of the school, the topographic and environmental qualities of the site, and the programmatic needs, the design team programmed a Machine Learning (ML) algorithm to split and subdivide the larger volumes into chunks and pieces that represent the desired qualities of human scale and intimate spaces. The goal behind the subdivision of the volumes is to achieve a scale that is not intimidating but inviting to students and faculty alike. In addition, the same algorithm provides the basis for the coloration of the design. Color is of crucial importance for the design, it amplifies the atmospheric qualities of the design and provides an additional layer that contributes to the unique identity of this project. The project strives for an architecture that allows students and faculty to identify themselves with the built environment of this school. In contrast to schools in the 20th century, which occasionally strived for a certain extent of anonymity in their architectural expression – following technocratic principles- this project strives for the opposite in that it intentionally serves as a platform for the identity of the community populating this school, from the staff and the faculty to the students occupying this space. The coloration provided by the Machine Learning Algorithm is interpreted in a variety of different ways, which reach from the simple color of patches of the buildings, to the subdivision of the landscaping into patches of various vegetation and ground materials (gravel, grass, sand, concrete, etc.)
The school is located on a site that stretches along a north-south axis. Close to the shores of the Zhujiang River Estuary the site is surrounded by Minzhu Road, Rong’an Road, and Demin Road. The West of the site is in close proximity to the S3 Highway, and an additional new Highway that comes close to the Northwest corner of the site. A new subway cuts underneath the Southwest corner of the site, providing a nearby Subway station – both of these elements, the proximity to the highway and the subway, provide an excellent infrastructure for the school in regards to the daily commute of students and faculty. The Northwest of Shenzhen is currently under rapid development and provides the larger population for this school project.
The trapezoid-shaped site has a long side facing south and a short side facing north. The highest point of the site is in the Northwest corner. It falls from there towards south and east, providing a maximum height difference of 8 meters towards the east and 4 meters towards the south. The design team made an intentional decision to use the given topography of the site in the best possible way. Akin to the examples shown in the introduction of Eastern and Western Villages that make excellent use of the site inclinations, we positioned the buildings along a North-South Axis, slowly building up the massing towards the North. It is best visible in the section (elevation) of the North-South Axis:
There is a specific sequence to the height of the buildings on the site, starting rather flat on the Southside and increasingly going up in height moving towards the north of the building. This is once more used as a very specific architectural effect that echoes the use of massing throughout the history of the architecture discipline. Positioning the highest building on top of the hill and decreasing from there allows for the maximum possible unobstructed views for buildings such as the dorms and the administration building – with an especially well-positioned director’s office. An additional positive effect of positioning the building along the western edge of the site is the possibility to make the underground parking in this area above the water-table of the site, avoiding the increased costs of building close to or under the water-table.