At Beijing's Garden School, students can sit on outdoor stairs to hear lectures, gather for talks along an open-air corridor, and plant vegetables on the roof. “Confucius taught under a tree, and Louis Kahn taught his students on the lawn,” explains Huang Wenjing, partner at Beijing-based OPEN Architecture. But designing a Chinese high school to promote out-of-classroom teaching seems a radical idea. Strict building codes and a historically rigorous educational system typically produce standardized schools with a running track as the only outdoor space. But OPEN's competition-winning design, employed by an enlightened administration, offers opportunities beyond the chalkboard.

Garden School—officially Beijing No. 4 High School, Fangshan Campus, a suburban satellite of the downtown Beijing No. 4—is named for the six gardens set between the building's many fingers. Each has its own character: one is a wide lawn ringed by benches, another is a bi-level space with a grove of bamboo. All sit atop pieces of the 622,000-square-foot building. To fit the broad program on an 11-acre site and adhere to height restrictions, OPEN put some large spaces—cafeteria, auditorium, music rooms, dance studio, and parking—partially or wholly underground. The spaces above respond to the construction below. For example, one garden is equipped with wooden seating with transparent glass panels that transmit sunlight to a basement gymnasium.

The largest green space is a vegetable garden on the building's roof deck. The school currently has only 180 of its planned 1,000'1,200 students enrolled, but when it fills up, each of its 36 classes will tend their own plot. In the school's first months of operation, one class planted an experimental garden, and local farmers tended the rest of the plots.

All this attention to the school's outdoor space does not come at the expense of its interiors. Above ground, the building appears as a lively asymmetrical structure with a central trunk for circulation and eight branches holding classrooms, labs, and administrative offices. Large windowed forms project from various branches and provide flexible spaces for relaxing and socializing. Similar projections extend from a detached dormitory that houses the senior high school students (junior high students live locally).

The school is spatially dynamic. Its main lobby—accessed from the street through a long, low gate and across a large plaza—may look convoluted in plan, but works well as a link to various stairways and levels. The classrooms themselves are simple boxes, but other spaces assume bold shapes. The library, for example, stretches out as a long, curving volume, while the cafeteria is an expansive, dome-shaped room. Sculptural stairways make walking among seven floors interesting (only the teachers can use the elevators).

Details too are well conceived, such as the simple fluorescent tubes set in a hexagonal pattern and the multimedia equipment closets composed in Mondrian-like grids. Colorful igloo-like pavilions dot the central spine, offering spaces for music, relaxing, and other activities.

Of course, it is one thing to design indoor and outdoor spaces with flexibility in mind and quite another for them to be used effectively. Garden School Principal Huang Chun says that while it may be inconvenient for educators to use unconventional spaces, the unfamiliar can stimulate creative teaching. He and his faculty are still exploring how to exploit the school's architecture for teaching opportunities, following the philosophy of its progressive model, Beijing No. 4's esteemed program on its main campus. Already one section of a wide corridor is home to small craft stations for woodworking, terrarium-making, and textile arts.

The school is part of the Changyang new town in Beijing's Fangshan District, beyond the fifth ring road. OPEN principal Li Hu credits developer Vanke—which built the school for the city and has developed residences in the area—with encouraging sustainability. In addition to its gardens and planted roof, the school includes a geothermal heat pump, rainwater retention basins, and other green features. The school is awaiting China 3 Star designation, which would make it the first school in the country with this top green rating.

OPEN designed Garden School to be a good neighbor. Students' parents can use the library, and plans call for the community to have access to the dormitory swimming pool. An 800-seat auditorium with a separate entrance is available for non-school events. In November, principals from around China gathered there to discuss the teaching methodology of Beijing No. 4 and learn how to create a school that supports it. “During its 100-year history, Beijing No. 4 was always the avant-garde in education in China,” says Principal Huang. “Now it is the avant-garde in campus design.”


Formal name of building:
Beijing No.4 High School Fangshan Campus

Changyang, Fangshan District, Beijing, China

Completion Date:
August, 2014

Gross square footage:
169,800 square feet (57,773 m')

Changyang Government of Fangshan District, Beijing

Construction Management:
Vanke + Cofco

Beijing No.4 High School Fangshan Campus

OPEN Architecture
T2-2501, Modern MOMA, No.1 Xiangheyuan Road, Dongcheng District, Beijing, China, 100028
Tele/Fax: +8610 84407533, +8610 84408867

Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Partner-in-Charge: Li Hu, Huang Wenjing (Registered architect of New York State and a member of AIA)
Project Architect: Daijiro Nakayama
Project Team (Project Phase): Ye Qing, Zhang Hao, Zhou Tingting, Thomas Batzenschlager, Zhang Chang, Jotte Seghers, Wang Yifan, Li Qiang, Ge Ruishi, Xue Wencan, Brendan Whitsitt, Ami Kito, Tao Wei, Simina Cuc, Zhao Yao, Chen Xiaoting, Cynthia Yurou Cui, Tang Wei, Liu Weijiang, Sheehan Watcher;
Project Team (Competition Phase): Yu Qingbo, Felipe Escudero, Julia Mok, Lu Chen, Cheng Yanwei, Fan Jie, Scott Craven, Chris Gerdes, Beatrice Lau

Associate architect:
Beijing Institute of Architectural Design

Interior designer:
OPEN Architecture
Interior CD Firm: CHOICE Design
Landscape designer: OPEN Architecture
Landscape CD Firm: MILAND Design

Beijing Institute of Architectural Design

Sustainability Consultant: School of Architecture, Tsinghua University
Curtain Wall Consultant: Inhabit Group
Lighting: Lighting Design Partnership International (LDPi)
Acoustical: Clocell
Structure Consultant: CABR Technology Co. Ltd.
Signage Design: Beijing Trycool Design

General Contractor:
Zhongxing Construction Co. Ltd.
Interior Contractor: Jiangsu Construction Engineering Group Co., Ltd. / Jin Longteng Decoration Co. Ltd. Curtain Wall Contractor: Shenzhen Sanxin Curtain Wall engineering Co. Ltd. Landscape Contractor: Beijing Changjian Yancheng Construction & Engineering Co. Ltd

Su Shengliang (+86 13764457695)
Xia Zhi (+86 13511057315)

Gross square footage:

169,800 square feet (57,773 m')

Completion date:

August 2014



Structural system
List type, e.g. concrete or steel frame, wood, etc.: Reinforced Concrete and steel frame
Manufacturer of any structural components unique to this project: Steel Structure Contractor: Jiangsu Qi'an Construction Group co., LTD

Exterior cladding
Metal Panels: Beijing DNJM Co., Ltd
Metal/glass curtain wall: Shenzhen Sanxin Curtain Wall engineering Co. Ltd.
Curtain wall: Shenzhen Sanxin Curtain Wall Engineering Co. Ltd.
Other cladding unique to this project: Exterior Stone Wall: Beijing Huayang Stone co., LTD
Stucco Exterior Finish: Hempel China Ltd.
Exposed Concrete surface repairing: Chengdu Xubao Decoration & Engineering co., LTD

Aluminum frame: SIEGENIA-AUBI KG, China Zhongwang Holdings Limited

Glass: Shandong Yaohua Glass Co., Ltd

Wood doors: Luyifang Wooden Co., Ltd
Fire-control doors, security grilles: Ruizhong Tianming (Beijing) Door Co. Ltd.

Locksets: NOKA
Panic bar: ASSA ABLOY (GULI brand)

Interior finishes
Acoustical ceilings: Guangzhou Longpai Building Materials Co., Ltd.; Knauf
Suspension grid: Guangzhou Longpai Building Materials Co., Ltd.
Paints and stains: Dulux
Paneling: Wheat straw board: NOVOFIBER Panel Board Co., Ltd
Solid surfacing: Vexcon
Special surfacing: Anodized aluminum plate: Beijing Huayu LuFeng Building Materials Co., Ltd.
Floor and wall tile: Shanghai CIMIC Holding Co., Ltd. (Floor)
Resilient flooring: Shengtehuake Rubber Co., Ltd.

Reception furniture(custom built): Jiangsu Construction Engineering Group Co., Ltd.

Interior ambient lighting: PAK Corporation Co. Ltd
Downlights: PAK Corporation Co. Ltd
Task lighting: PAK Corporation Co. Ltd

Elevators/Escalators: Kone China

American Standard


Ground Source Heat Pump: Ji Gao Jian Ye Co. Ltd Solar Energy System: Beijing Green Godsend Co. Ltd
Rainwater Collecting System: Beijing Tsingneng Science and Technology co., LTD