The Screen

(Ningbo, China, 2013)

□   Background

This project was initiated because a long-term shortage of space at the school and the increasing demand on existing spaces in recent years. The two major difficulties were to obtain land and to raise funds for the project. Finally, the new building had to be established within the only vacant space—a small courtyard space surrounded by the existing buildings of the School of Architecture. The project depends on sponsorship by the Foundation and on Tsinghua alumni for funding. Construction began after getting barely enough to cover the budget.

□   Thinking of Design


Given the objectives, conditions and the situation of the new building, the main issues this project faces are to work within very tight constraints to create space efficiency, a developed and recognizable architectural attitude, consistency, a coherent image and gradients of public and private spaces.

Architectural Attitudes

Because of its historical background, the old building of the School of Architecture attached more importance to form and style than to the essence and experience of space. The new building for the School of Architecture should not only be able to handle the encountered issues and meet the functional requirements, but also convey a clear attitude-- that space and form should not be simply determined by style, but respond to the purpose of the building and the issues it faces.

Space Efficiency

The conditions and requirements of the project, which include the highly constrained building site, demand a highly efficient use of space in order to meet the building’s program requirements and effectively control construction costs.

Consistency and Distinguishability

Surrounded by existing buildings, the building will be highly visible and intimately connected to the other parts of the school. The new architectural form should be coordinated with the style of the existing buildings but it should also be distinguishable from them. Simply speaking, it is necessary to create an adjacent relationship that supports connection and independence, but not excessive interference.


Sustainability has always been a concern of the architect and it is a basic issue the building must be required to face. Built inside the atrium space--surrounded by the “four-faced wall,” --this project has a relatively difficult base condition. The project attempts to introduce natural light and to guide the natural flow of air by means of spatial arrangement, so as to shape a comfortable environment without excessive energy consumption.


For a school building, especially the building of the School of Architecture that has a strong communication requirement, it is essential to create public space that inspires participation, communication, and a host of activities. Implementing and strengthening the public aspects of the building is a critical part of the design.


Based on the conditions and issues mentioned above, the proposed design strategy is to deal with issues related to function and efficiency through the unitization and systematization of the architecture, to influence issues concerning sustainability by means of the arrangement of space and low technology strategies, and to handle the issues regarding the relationship between the architecture and the surroundings, as well as architectural optimization of aesthetics by creating a screen interface on the facade.

The main design concept is: a floating 3×3 grids covered (jiugongge) cubic box, built of a solid and void system of spatial units—a fuzzy interface and weak form, with aesthetic sense and distinguishable features.

Three-Dimensional Space Module System

The 7.5m X 7.5m X 7.5m cubic space is the most important unit size from which to create the spatial module system as it is based on the original settings for a studio of 30 students. From this unit, the entire building volume – the 22.5m X 22.5m X 22.5m cubic box—is piled up. This systematic structure decreases the complexity and increases the efficiency of the construction process. As a consequence, it can also effectively reduce the project cost.


The façade as screen will work as a filter. It will have a transitional and softening effect, blurring and filtering the dissonances between old and new but not blocking the transmission of light.

Distinguishability and Optimization

It is not easy for the building volume, which is composed of a single element, to have a strong conflict with other styles due to its simple form. Its three-dimensional trellis surface will give the building a non-invasive distinguishability and a sense of presence. We used a bright yellow metal framework, obviously different from the environment, to define the entrance of the new building and symbolize the independent personality of the new building. Using all these strategies and more, we believe we can transform “the backyard to the front yard” – and convert what was originally a negative situation into a positive one.

Privacy, Sun-shading, and Integration of Equipment

The surface space that is composed of 30-degree-angle lattice panels is capable of sun-shading and reducing energy consumption. In addition, it helps to offer a moderate visual filtering buffer for the use of the internal space, so as to maintain certain privacy and to eliminate the interference caused by the close spacing. On the other hand, it also helps to integrate the equipment spaces, such as the outdoor unit of air conditioning, which maintains the integrity of a building.

Shaping of Horizontal and Vertical Open Spaces

The building is a 22.5m X 22.5m X 22.5m cube, in order to introduce natural light and to facilitate the natural flow of air. The 3×3 grid (jiugongge) building cube is moderately raised to create an open space at the lower layer and generate a horizontal flow of air. The central unit of the 3×3 grid (jiugongge) spatial system is pulled out to form an vertical open box that will introduce natural light to every floor and provide a stack for the circulation of air up through the building. The partition doors of each floor are equipped with airflow devices that will allow the air in the rooms to naturally flow to the atrium. We hope to shape an energy-saving and comfortable internal environment.

□   Conclusion

As a new building, this project is not only expected to meet functional demands but also to redefine the original space and use patterns of the school. It will create more opportunities for learning and communication and increase students’ enthusiasm and creativity just the way and inspired and thoughtfully designed educational space should.