In 2017, one of China’s innovative education pioneers ETU EDUCATION commissioned Crossboundaries to design the first campus for the ETU School in Beijing, after starting off experimenting with their educational practice in a temporary space for about two years.
Shortly after Crossboundaries handed over the completed space, ETU School’s founder Mrs. Li Yinuo told us, that our children-centered design made the school extremely popular among the children, many of whom calling it “home”. When a former Finnish Counselor for Education at the Beijing Embassy came to visit the school, expressing that it was the first time they’d seen a Chinese school that felt very similar to Finnish Schools.
From a boiler room, this well-accepted school was transformed in just five months.
Challenges from ETU
After a long time of site selection, ETU team chose to rent a small, gray three-story industrial building that used to be a boiler room. The intention was to renovate it into an innovative primary school that had to represent ETU’s educational vision in a unique way.
Located in the middle of an old residential compound, this new campus of 2600 square meters was consisting of a very compact building, with several additions to the original structure, surrounded by a dense residential neighborhood that appeared crowded and chaotic. The industrial interior came with challenges too. On each floor inside the building, only one side of the façade has windows for natural lighting.
With limited time and budget, Crossboundaries decided to focus on enriching the functions and discrepancies of the interior, while fulfilling the basic need for outdoor space.
Firstly we removed the double-loaded office layout and made the necessary structural reinforcements to implement an entirely new spatial pattern. By arranging special rooms like dance studios on the more private side of the building, the classrooms could be placed on the other side with most natural light.
The wide corridors created thereby are where we land our unique spatial interventions at. In each floor’s corridor, Crossboundaries introduced various experiential, multifunctional blocks tailored for the areas outside each classroom, like peninsulas extending from the mainland, integrating spaces for informal learning, social activities and events.
When designing those multifunctional blocks, we carefully considered both needs of group and individuals. As a result, the blocks can not only be used to organize spontaneous events, but can be combined with other spaces - like the dance studio, where a performance can be viewed from the opposite terraced seating. In addition there are more hidden, intimate areas for close friends and book nooks for quiet reading and rest.
The activity of the multifunctional blocks permeates into the classrooms, with small windows and special staircases enabling visual connections and interactions between students and teachers before, during and after class. In the meantime, they can add in transparency and connections between spaces and offer a feeling of safety for the teachers and the students.
Yinuo used to write about how to build a good school, emphasizing a loving, supporting environment that offers a sense of safety to children. The key to create this kind of environment according to her lies in respect. From this point, our design does not only follow children’s nature, allowing children to climb up and down, in and out, adding to their conventional physical activities, stimulating curiosity and exploring consciousness, but also caring for their sensitive feelings by offering familiar scales in the variety of spaces provided.
Besides generating interactions between learning and playing, Crossboundaries also had a practical consideration on introducing these blocks. Due to the constraints of the existing space, the small building could not accommodate an independent library, a lecture hall or a room for self-study. Instead these functions were skillfully integrated into the “peninsula”, to maximize the spacial efficiency for the school and its program.
Color is an important guide throughout the ETU School – both metaphorically and practically. Crossboundaries introduced bright yellow and blue to highlight the multifunctional blocks; while the school’s symbolic green is used for classrooms.
On the exterior, the ETU green is also applied on the connective tissue of the campus, the entrances and staircases, forming a three-dimensional lap around the school to tie together the ground floor sports fields with the roof terraces of the original building. With a total length of around one kilometer, the running track supports running, climbing, playing, relaxing, gathering for small performances and events and also roof gardening. Meanwhile, with these punctual interventions on the façade and surroundings the campus becomes noticeable to stand out in its chaotic context.
Crossboundaries’ design represents the unique vision of the ETU School - by providing an adventurous space for the individual health and happiness of students and teachers, the direct interaction between them is enhanced.