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OPEN Architecture Studio’s Most Incredible Projects

OPEN Architecture is a studio that has pushed their work into the future with creations like the MARS house and Chapel of Sound. Both on the cutting edge of sustainable design, and thinking forward into the conceptual needs of the humans of the future, they have made a name for themselves with their thoughtful and visually stunning creations. 


OPEN was founded by LI Hu and HUANG Wenjing in New York City. It established its Beijing office in 2008. Some built and ongoing projects by OPEN include: the Gehua Youth and Cultural Center, Garden School/Beijing No.4 High School Fangshan Campus, Tsinghua Ocean Center, Pingshan Performing Arts Center, Tank Shanghai, UCCA Dune Art Museum, Chapel of Sound, and Qingpu Pinghe International School.

OPEN has been widely recognized for its innovative work. Recent awards the firm received include the 2021 Arcasia Awards Gold, 2021 AR Future Project Awards, 2020 Design for Asia Awards, and the 2020 London Design Museum’s Design of the Year Nomination, amongst many many others. They believe in the innovative power of architecture to transform people and the way they live, while striking a new balance between the manmade and nature.


OPEN Architecture’s 10 Most Stunning Buildings

1.Chapel of Sound

Nestled in a mountainous valley two hours away by car from the center of Beijing, The Chapel of Sound is a monolithic open-air concert hall with views to the ruins of the Ming Dynasty-era Great Wall. Designed by Beijing-based architecture office, OPEN, to look as a mysterious boulder that had gently fallen into place, the building is built entirely from concrete that is enriched with an aggregate of local mineral-rich rocks, and encompasses a semi-outdoor amphitheater, outdoor stage, viewing platforms, and a green room. While designed to capture the unfamiliar and deeply touching experience of music performed in the cradle of nature, the architects also wanted people just to calm down and listen to the sound of nature, which they believe is profoundly inspiring and healing. When there is no performance, the concert hall is also a tranquil space for contemplation and community gatherings with stunning views of the sky and the surrounding landscape.

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OPEN’s founding partners Li Hu and Huang Wenjing were driven by a desire to minimise the footprint of the concert hall in the valley, creating a structure that was in dialogue with impressive natural landscape, while also feeling undeniably man made. The resulting rock-like structure is composed of an inner and outer shell with the space between operating like a truss, and was ultimately achieved through close collaboration with international engineering firm, Arup. Formed from concrete, each striation cantilevers out from the previous layer to create the inverted cone shape. Winding staircases weave through the building to a rooftop platform that offers panoramic views of the valley and Great Wall. In the interior spaces, accents of bronze for details such as handrails and doors are used to create a warm contrast against the concrete.


The brief for the project was very open which inspired the architects to research all aspects of performance, looking at how the behaviors of sound could be a driving force behind the final shape of a building; Li and Huang described wanting to: “see the shape of sound”. Ultimately, they were drawn to the ways sound reverberates in natural spaces such as caves. Having designed theaters and concert halls, they knew the challenges here was how to create excellent acoustic environment without introducing additional sound absorbing materials. Working with acoustic engineers, OPEN looked at the many ways people will experience sound in the concert hall and defined openings that act both as the sound absorption areas and providing a connection with the exterior environment.

OPEN Said: “We were very aware of the responsibility we had to contribute a thoughtful structure that fits naturally into such a unique landscape. We wanted to create something different, and more importantly, something meaningful. We are now at a time that the question of our relationship with nature as human beings is more acute than ever. Can we be humble enough to hear what nature is murmuring to us? The symphony of nature is what we really wanted people to experience here.”

There is an inherent air of mystery around the Chapel of Sound that draws you in as you approach the building. This extends to how people will interact with the space, from being a place for individual reflection to a venue for large-scale concerts, the structure can be experienced in many different ways. Huang said: “We wanted the definition of the space to be not so absolute, thus allowing for possibilities. Solitary or communal, music or sound of nature, gazing into the starry sky or connecting with one’s inner self – it’s open to the interpretation of the users”. With no heating or air-conditioning, the Chapel of Sound consumes minimum energy, something OPEN was very conscious of when designing the building. The openings also allow the natural elements to come inside, a void in the centre of the rooftop allows daylight to enter the structure and naturally illuminates the performance spaces. When it rains the water will also cascade through the void, however, inspired by the Pantheon, OPEN designed a drainage system that quickly drains the water away.

Li and Huang spent over 10 years training and working in the United States and as a result are very conscious of moving away from traditionally “Eastern” or “Western” ideas of architecture, particularly when it comes to cultural spaces. OPEN understands that the perceived differences in how cultures experience events and spaces are overstated and through their architecture strive to demonstrate that architecture has the power to connect people with each other, with nature, and with our own past and future.


2. Qingpu Pinghe Sports Center

Out of all the buildings on the Shanghai Qingpu Pinghe International School Campus designed by OPEN, the Sports Center gives the greatest impression of lightness—two round-cornered, translucent volumes floating above a transparent box. Inside this glass box, is the school’s canteen, and above it, seemingly suspended within two rectangular “Air Capsules”, are the campus gymnasium and swimming pool. The building is intentionally sited on the north corner of the campus, where its proximity to the street and the secondary entrance of the school will facilitate use by the public during school holidays. Open to the surrounding community when students are not present, the building will provide important sport and study facilities for the rapidly developing city around it.

The swimming pool, gymnasium, and canteen—the campus’s three largest public programs—play with ideas of light and weightlessness. Translucent walls of thin tensioned film, polycarbonate paneling and perforated aluminum skin, soft colors, bubbly forms, and a glazed ground floor and atrium all work to cancel out the huge volume and weight of the programs within.


The first of these forms, a rectangular “Air Capsule” on the building’s eastern end, contains a multifunctional gymnasium. Along with smaller spaces, the gym contains a large hall that can be used for basketball, volleyball, badminton, taekwondo, fencing, and many other sports and school functions. The interior of the hall is bright, clean, and open, with a warm bamboo veneer and retractable stepped seating on two sides. An extended rectangular skylight on the long-span roof of the gymnasium brings daylight into the space below, removing the need for artificial illumination and allowing students to enjoy natural light while engaging in indoor activities.

On the western end of the building, a smaller “Air Capsule” houses the swimming pool, equipped with five 25-meter swimming lanes and facilities such as changing rooms for swim meets and daily training. Like the gymnasium, the swimming pool is also bathed in natural light. Stripped skylights and a polycarbonate double-layered curtain wall system on the north and south facades make the space feel lightweight and translucent. Large windows at both ends give swimmers a panoramic view of the campus and the city and lend the “floating swimming pool” a bright and airy quality. A 12-meter high glass atrium, flooded with sunlight by skylights, separates the two rectangular volumes holding the pool and the gym. Within the atrium, the main staircase offers a platform from which students can observe activities happening inside both spaces.

The canteen on the ground floor is a transparent box, offering panoramic views of the surrounding campus landscape and the many activities taking place within it. The canteen is divided by a kitchen into two dining areas, one for students and one for faculty and staff. Catering to the practical needs of the school, the canteen’s design is flexible and the space can be easily transformed for school-wide activities, fairs, and functions. Lighting and furniture in the space meet the necessary requirements for a wide range of uses. A canteen for eating and socializing one day may the next day be the largest study room in the school, able to comfortably accommodate up to a thousand students at once.


The volumes containing the gym and pool cantilever out structurally, heightening the illusion of floating and ensuring the cleanness and simplicity of the sport and swimming facilities within. Concealed in the double-skin of each volume are both structure—a large-span space grid—and complex MEP equipment. The transparent material of the double-skin not only introduces moderated daylight but also serves as an effective means of ventilation, helping to reduce the use of air conditioning in spaces that usually consume huge amounts of energy. When night falls, the stretched membrane on the façade of the swimming pool begins to glow, and the light of students at their evening studies shines out from the glass box of the canteen. The whole building becomes a warm lantern illuminating a corner of the campus, bright enough that additional lighting around it is not needed at night. The steel frame structure and MEP equipment is hidden between the double-skin are also visible through the membrane’s perforations. Abstract patterns, generated on the building façade from the interplay of structure and light, change slowly over time.


3. Shanghai Qingpu Pinghe International School

The new school campus in Shanghai features an organic constellation of 13 unique buildings, redefining what modern educational institutions should look like. When OPEN was given a brief of a new school for 2000 students aged from 3 to 15, the immediate reaction was how to avoid the dreariness of kids spending fifteen years fixed in one place. Inspired by the African proverb “it takes a village to raise a child”, the architects decided to break away from the prevailing model of school as a megastructure. Instead, the original program was deconstructed and regrouped into many smaller and distinctive buildings, together with the landscape in between, they form a diverse and vibrant village-like educational campus. The design of the Qingpu Pinghe International School campus, an organic constellation of unique smaller buildings linked by thoughtfully designed landscape elements, is a direct response to the widespread prevalence of over-scaled, generic school complexes in China.
Among the school’s diverse building types including learning cubes, an administration and laboratory building, a helical student dormitory, and a freeform kindergarten are 3 core elements that respectively represent reading, sports, and art, the essential components of contemporary education: Bibliotheater, Gym Canteen, and the Arts Center. On the urban scale, the architect and the client share the view that future schools should be places for social interactions. In this school, the large public programs such as the library, the theater, the pool, and the gym are designed to be accessible to the public when the school is not in session, in the effort of making more efficient use of public resources and contributing to the community at large.

The “Bibliotheater” is strategically located to serve both the school and the community. A library, a theater, and a black box interlock together like a Chinese puzzle to form this characteristic building that some call ‘the blue whale’ while others see it as an ocean liner. The juxtaposition of library and theater came from our belief that reading and performing are two critically important components of early education. Gym Canteen is made up of two round-cornered white boxes gym and swimming pool, floating above the ground floor’s transparent glass box canteen. A vertical glass atrium displays the active movements in the building. Centrally located on the campus, Arts Center resembles a precise cut black diamond, appearing different from varying angles. Visual arts are stacked on top of performing arts programs, each has a double-height atrium that penetrates through the building volume and brings in abundant lights. The two atriums crisscross and interconnect to form the central public area which double functions as exhibition galleries. Teaching classrooms are accommodated in clusters of cubical buildings cladded with bamboo boards. The primary school cubes have curved perimeter walls, while the middle school cubes have folded ones. The white prefab-concrete building with capsule-shaped openings at the main entry is the Admin-Lab building.


4. Pinghe Bibliotheater

Pinghe Bibliotheater is the core of OPEN’s latest project—School as Village/Shanghai Qingpu Pinghe International School. A library, a theater, and a black box interlock together like a Chinese puzzle to form this characteristic building that some call ‘the blue whale’ while others see it as an ocean liner. The unique form of the building and the free-flowing spaces not only cultivate the students’ interests in reading and performing, but also encourage their imagination to roam freely in the ocean of knowledge. The Bibliotheater abuts an important corner of this school-village, at a junction near which a major city highway and an ancient canal also meet. The slanted roof with spiky skylights, ship portholes like round windows, and eye-catching blue color leave a strong impression on passersby. 

When they were given the extensive and jumbled-together program of a new school for 2000 students aged from 3 to 18 years, the immediate reaction was how dreadful it would be for a kid spending these many years fixed in one building. They  decided to break away from the current trend of school-as-megastructure. Instead, the original program was deconstructed and grouped into many smaller and distinctive buildings, forming a village-like campus. The marriage of library and theater came from the architect’s belief that the act of extensive reading and thinking, and the act of expression through performances, should be critical components of education but are often ignored in test-driven educational systems. The distinctive qualities of these two programs and the respective physical needs came to inspire the design of the building.


The proscenium theater and the black box, which require the least natural light and the most acoustic isolation, occupy the lower part and the deep central area of the building, while the library occupies the upper part. A loop of different reading spaces rises and drops according to the varying heights of the theater volumes below, creating a terraced spatial sequence that climaxes at a central reading area that is surrounded by books and light. The experience of reading is inevitably introverted and highly personal. Facing readers from early years to young adults, the architect created many comfortable reading zones of different qualities. A sunken roof garden gives kids breathes of fresh air and an outdoor reading area when weather permits. The experience of performing in theaters, on the other hand, is extroverted and exciting. The main entry to the theater is where the building is ‘cut’ diagonally to form a theatrical opening. The juxtaposition of warm wood panels and deep blue walls create a visually stimulating auditorium. The café on the ground floor also plays an important role. During normal school days, parents waiting to pick up kids can read and socialize there.

Light is crucial to the design of the library, not only fulfilling the functional needs but also giving form to the spaces and animating them with musical rhythm. Abundant skylights on the slanted roof bring filtered light to the central reading area, a giant oculus dropping down from the ceiling illuminates the very center in an almost spiritual way, forming an emotionally charged central space. While in the theater, natural light is avoided entirely, and artificial lighting was carefully designed to meet functional requirements.In a sense, the Bibilotheater was conceived more broadly as a cultural center for not only the school but also the surrounding communities. Carefully placed near the secondary entrance of the campus, the building may be used independently without disturbing the campus management. It was the architect’s hope that the Bibliotheater will become the social energizer that brings together parents and community members.


5. Pingshan Performing Arts Center

In tandem with China’s economic boom and rapid urbanization, theaters have sprung up throughout the country in the past decade. Most have extravagant exteriors, but are often spatially monotonous and far detached from the general public and everyday urban life, greatly underutilizing the tremendous public resources invested in them. After winning a competition to design the first theater in Pingshan, a new district in the municipality of Shenzhen, OPEN had the opportunity to take a critical look at the past development of theaters in China, and to explore new possibilities for the future. With tremendous support from the client, they ‘re-designed’ the original program which only called for a grand theater — performing-arts-related educational and social programs were added, as well as a restaurant and a café. A public promenade and a series of gardens accessible to all were designed to be interwoven with the architecture. In breaking away from the mono-function Cultural Landmark typology, the building not only becomes much more sustainable in daily operation, but also sets a new example of social inclusivity for civic buildings. Serving as a new cultural hub, it also provides the non-theater-going public with an exceptional and unusual urban space.


Despite many examples to the contrary, we do not believe a theater building necessarily requires a “dramatic” form. “Drama Box” was intentionally designed to be cubical in form and rich in spatial experiences. At its heart is the volume of a 1,200-seat grand theater which is entirely wrapped in dark-red-toned wood panels, visible both from inside the building and on the roof — the fly gallery penetrates the roof and manifested itself as the backdrop for the roof garden. Flanking the grand theater is a variety of smaller functional spaces accessible both by a separate circulation system inside the building and through an outdoor meandering public promenade — so they can be conveniently used by the general public even when the grand theater is closed. Blurring the boundary of the building and city, the promenade links together a café, a black box theater, teaching spaces, rehearsal rooms, informal outdoor theater, and outdoor gardens on different levels. This interweaving of architecture and nature gradually reveals surprises and colors to visitors who stroll the promenade’s length from the ground floor plaza to the roof garden.

As a result, the performing arts center brings together a series of seemingly opposite elements: the formal and the informal, the elite and the mass, the traditional and the experimental; resulting in rich and exciting experiences both spatially and functionally.Within and around this porous “drama box”, the introduction of a variety of vegetation in outdoor gardens on different levels of the building creates a comfortable environment for people. The planted roof also greatly reduces the heat load of the building. The façade is a direct response to the local climate, with the outer skin made of precision-engineered perforated aluminum V sections, both protecting the building from sub-tropical sun exposure and enhances natural ventilation. Lots of efforts put into the design to help this performing arts center break away from the conventional notion of theater as high energy consuming building typology.


6. UCCA Dune Art Museum

Countless years of wind have pushed the beach’s sand into a dune along the shore several meters high, stabilized by low-rising shrubs and other ground cover. Inspired by children’s tireless digging in the sand, the museum lies beneath this dune. “Digging” creates a series of interconnected, organically shaped spaces which, enveloped by sand, resemble caves—the primeval home of man, whose walls were once a canvas for some of humanity’s earliest works of art. Hidden between the sea and the sand, the design of the Dune Art Museum is simple, pure, and touching—a return to primal and timeless forms of space. The decision to create the art museum underneath the dunes surrounding it was born out of both the architects’ deep reverence for nature and their desire to protect the vulnerable dune ecosystem, formed by natural forces over thousands of years. Because of the museum, these sand dunes will be preserved instead of leveled to make space for ocean-view real estate developments, as has happened to many other dunes along the shore.


A series of cell-like contiguous spaces accommodate the Dune Art Museum’s rich and varied programs, which include differently-sized galleries and a café. After passing through a long, dark tunnel and a small reception area, the space suddenly opens up as visitors enter the largest multifunctional gallery. There, a beam of daylight from the skylight above silently yet powerfully fills the space. Looking through different openings framed by the building, museum-goers can observe the ever-changing expressions of the sky and sea throughout the day. A spiral staircase leads to a lookout on top of the sand dune, guiding curious audiences from the dark recesses of the museum’s cave-like galleries to the vast openness above. Hidden between the sea and the sand, the museum emerges as a hidden shelter, intimate to the body and soul—a place to thoughtfully contemplate both nature and art. The complex three-dimensional geometry of the Dune Art Museum’s concrete shell was shaped by hand by local workers in Qinhuangdao (some of whom were former shipbuilders), using formwork made from small linear strips of wood and other materials. The architect deliberately retained the irregular and imperfect texture left by the formwork, allowing traces of the building’s manual construction to be felt and seen. In addition, the building’s doors and windows, reception desk, bar counter, and bathroom sinks are all custom-designed and made by hand. The eight tables in the café are also designed by the architect, each with a distinct shape matching that of the floor plans of the eight main gallery spaces.


The building’s many skylights, each with a different orientation and size, provide natural lighting for the museum’s spaces at all times of the year; its sand-covered roof greatly reduces the building’s summer heat load; and a low-energy, zero-emission ground source heat pump system replaces traditional air conditioning. In the near future, a long walkway will be built opposite the Dune Art Museum, extending into the ocean. At low tide, when the pathway is accessible, visitors will be able to walk to the Sea Art Museum, which will rise out of the sea like a solitary rock. Together, these two museums will form a “Dialogue by the Sea”.


7. MARS Case

On September 26, 2018, MARS Case—a minimal housing prototype designed by OPEN Architecture in collaboration with Chinese electronics giant Xiaomi—was officially unveiled to the public outside the Bird’s Nest National Stadium in Beijing. The proposal is part of an annual cross-industry innovation and research platform known as House Vision, which uses the medium of the “house” to explore and question the direction of our living habits and urban environments in the future. Two hundred years ago, Henry David Thoreau withdrew from society and moved to Walden alone to reflect upon the nature of simple living. Today, in an era of environmental crises and seemingly endless material consumption, we must ask ourselves—what are our essential needs?


With MARS Case, OPEN challenges conventions of living space and proposes new possibilities for the future. The prototype imagines that humanity is forced to settle on Mars—a distant, lonely planet. There, we cannot rely on natural resources, as we have become so accustomed to on Earth. There, we have no choice but to reduce the excessive consumption of our former lifestyles and carry only minimal essentials. Recycling will be the only way we survive. As we find new appreciation in every drop of water, every bite of food, and every breath of air, will we at last discover the freedom of truly simple living? Is this what we should define as the ideal house of the future? MARS Case envisions this ideal house, which seamlessly combines technology, product design, and architecture. Domestic appliances in Xiaomi’s current product lines can all be connected wirelessly and controlled over smart phones. MARS Case goes a step further to integrate these separate electronic appliances into one synthesized product, The Home. In harnessing and recycling the heat, exhaust, condensation, and other byproducts generated by each electronic device within it, the house feeds energy, air, and water and air back into an integrated ecosystem, minimizing consumption of resources. A lightweight, compact 2.4 meter x 2.4 meter x 2 meter module, within which—like a suitcase—all the house’s service components and inflatable living spaces can be folded and stored for easy transportation. An industrial product suited for the living needs anfd environments of all users, everywhere on earth. And above all, an ideal house with which to explore the boundless possibilities of the future.


8. Tank Shanghai

Along the banks of Shanghai’s Huangpu River, five decommissioned aviation fuel tanks once stood abandoned on an empty industrial site. Today, these tanks and the surrounding site—forgotten relics of the city’s former Longhua Airport—have been given new life and relevancy by OPEN Architecture. Over the course of six years, the five tanks were converted from waste containers to a vibrant contemporary art center, with galleries and other public spaces housed within the tanks themselves. One of the world’s rare examples of the adaptive re-use of aviation fuel tanks, Tank Shanghai has attracted millions of visitors since its opening in March 2019 and has solidified its place in the city’s contemporary art scene.


Conceived of as both an art museum and an open park, Tank Shanghai sets itself apart as a sanctuary for both people and nature. Open, accessible, and seamlessly integrated with the surrounding landscape, the project not only pays tribute to the site’s industrial past, but also seeks to dissolve conventional ideas of site limitations and demarcations. Tank Shanghai’s design purposefully rejects the idea of a bordered site. Long, sloping landscaped meadows down to and around each tank gallery offer open access to the street and riverside, inviting visitors and passerby to move freely between the city, nature, and art. Amidst the backdrop of Shanghai’s many more exclusive cultural projects, this gesture creates surprising social inclusivity. Many of those who come to the Tanks do so not only to view an art show, but also to jog or picnic on the project’s undulating landscaped lawns. This unusually open approach to the museum space has already brought about unexpected benefits and inspired new operational models for the art center. Within a year, Tank Shanghai has hosted not only high-profile art exhibitions but also a fashion week, book fair, art festival, and AI conference. By introducing new audiences to the traditionally closed-off space of the art center, Tank Shanghai has brought unprecedented energy to the formerly industrial neighborhood and to the southwest banks of the city at large.

Central to the project’s design is the merging of architecture and landscape through a Z-shaped “Super-Surface”—a 5 hectare landscaped swath of trees and grasses which connects the five tanks and weaves different elements of the site together. Two of the tanks sit above the Super-Surface, while the other three sit halfway below, creating free-flowing indoor public spaces and offering opportunities to access each of the tanks’ galleries from beneath. Entrance ramps to each tank are wrapped with steel panels, which enter into dialogue with the curved structures of the existing tanks; steps around the tanks double as seating for the café. Floor-to-ceiling windows and skylights flood these otherwise dimmer underground spaces with light and allow gallery visitors to observe seasonal changes in the park landscape beyond. Two smaller galleries, together with a myriad collection of freely accessible public art installations, are scattered across the park. Wrapped in mirrored stainless steel, the Tanks’ Reflecting Gallery is secluded within the Urban Forest. A second, multipurpose Project Space, overlooking the river and a tree-lined reflecting pool, features a saw-toothed roofline that deliberately juxtaposes the curvilinearity of the tanks. 


The design strategy employed to retrofit the five tanks varies according to the requirements of the different programs housed within them. Tank 1—a two-story live-house and bar—contains a drum-shaped inner tank with curving walls that improve the space’s acoustics for musical performances. Tank 2—a restaurant—is organized around a circular central courtyard, on top of which rests a roof deck for alfresco dining. Tank 3 remains intentionally unchanged, with its original interiors offering a unique domed space for displaying large contemporary artworks and installations. The addition of an operational oculus skylight allows natural light and even rain to enter the gallery interior. Tank 4 contains a three-level cube that offers more conventional spaces for gallery and canvas art, while Tank 5 features an additive rectangular volume that passes through the body of the tank and emerges on either side to form two stages on both ends. From the exterior the surface of all of the tanks preserve their original industrial aesthetics; only occasional round or capsule-shaped openings and portholes were added. 

8. Beijing No.4 High School Fangshan Campus

Situated in the center of a new town just outside Beijing’s southwest fifth ring road, this new public school on 4.5 hectares of land is designed as the branch campus for the renowned Beijing No.4 High School. As an important piece in a grand scheme to build a healthier and self-sustainable new town, avoiding problems of the earlier mono-functional suburban developments, the school is vital to the development of the vast newly urbanized surrounding area. The intention of creating more open spaces filled with nature, something that urban Chinese students today desperately need, combined with the space limitations of the site, inspired a strategy on the vertical dimension to create multiple grounds, by separating the programs into above and below, and inserting gardens in-between.  The juxtaposition of the resultant upper and lower building, connected at the ‘middle-ground’ in various ways, is as much an interesting spatial strategy as a signifier of the relationship between formal and informal educational spaces in the new school.


The lower part contains large and non-repetitive public functions of the school, such as the canteen, the auditorium, the gymnasium, and the swimming pool. Each of these spaces with their varying height requirements, form various mound shapes that touch the belly of the upper building; their roofs in the form of landscaped gardens become the new open ‘ground’ on different altitude. The upper building is a thin rhizome shaped slab that contains the more repetitive and rigid programs of classrooms, labs, dormitories and administration. Its mega form extends, bends, and branches, but all connected together. The main circulation spine within this large structure is expanded to create special social areas, like a river with organic shaped islands that provide semi-private enclosures for small group activities. The roof-top of the upper building is designed to be an organic farm, with 36 plots for the 36-classes of students in the school, providing students the chance to learn the techniques of farming, and also paying tribute to the site’s pastoral past.

The tension between the two types of educational spaces and the rich mix of programs within create a surprising spatial complexity. With the unique identity designed for each different space, an urban experience is created within this complex of education facilities. Unlike a typical campus with hierarchical spatial organization and often clear axis to organize more or less symmetrical movements, the new school is free form and meant to have multiple centers that can be accessed in any possible sequences. It is a place with a free spirit that encourages explorations and awaits reinventions by different individuals. Hopefully the physical environment can inspire and initiate some much needed changes in the education system of China today.


The project aims to be the first triple-green-star rated school in the country (a standard that exceeds LEED Gold). In order to maximize natural ventilation and natural light, and minimize heat gain during summer, passive solar strategies are adopted in almost all aspects of the design, from the planning of the building geometry all the way to the details of the window design. Permeable ground surface paving and expansive green roofs helps to minimize surface run-off, and two large underground water retention basins collect precious rain water from the athletics field for irrigation of the farms and gardens. A geothermal  ground-source heat pump provides a sustainable source of energy for the large public spaces, whilst independently controlled VRV units serve all the individual teaching spaces to ensure flexible operation. Throughout the project, simple, natural, and durable materials such as bamboo plywood, plaster, pebble dashing (a vanishing technique), stone, and concrete are used. An ancient Confucian saying goes that “etiquettes are practiced under the shade of trees, and knowledge is taught beside the apricot woods”. In the contemporary Chinese context, arguably the most pertinent issue and challenge is that of the relationship between the individual and society and between mankind and nature. It is to these issues that this new campus project aspires to be both a touchstone and response.



HEX-SYS is a reconfigurable and reusable building system OPEN Architecture designed. As our reaction to the unique Chinese phenomenon in the recent decades’ building frenzy – the production of vast amount of flamboyant but short-lived buildings, this modular building system can easily adapt to many different functions, and can be disassembled and reused, thus extending a building’s life cycle and saving great amount of resources. By being modular and prefabricated, it can be built much faster than traditional buildings. This system is part of OPEN’s continuous exploration on mass-customization and the ultimate potential in building sustainability.


Inspired by both the ancient Chinese wooden building system which can be taken apart and rebuilt elsewhere with little damage, and Le Corbusier’s Pavilion for Zurich which summarized his lifelong research on modular building systems, we designed this prototype comprised of hexagonal cells with architectural, structural and mechanical systems all synthesized within the same geometrical rules. The composition of cells can be rearranged according to different site and programmatic needs.The basic building cell is a hexagon module about 40sm, with an inverted umbrella roof structure standing on a single pipe column which double functions as the rain flue. Rainwater is collected and used for landscape irrigation. There are 3 basic types of cells, indoor-open, indoor-closed and outdoor-open, to accommodate different functional needs. A ‘missing’ hexagon in a cluster of cells forms an internal Zen garden, much like the void in Chinese paintings. Building components’ connection details are all designed to be reversible, no welding or glue allowed.

OPEN holds the design patent for this building system. The first realized prototype of HEX-SYS is an exhibition center in Guangzhou China, next to the city’s new train station. It contains exhibition areas, multimedia room, lounge, offices and café. This building demonstrates one possible application of HEX-SYS, but the system can be adapted to many other suitable functions as well. 


10. Tsinghua Ocean Center

Tsinghua Ocean Center, a laboratory and office building for the newly established deep-ocean research base of Tsinghua University, is located at the eastern end of Tsinghua graduate school campus in Shenzhen Xili University Town, and right next to the main campus entrance.


Instant university towns are recent Chinese urbanization in epitome: far away from city centers, these isolated urban archipelagos are often over scaled, lack of humanistic concern and its related services. With the opportunity of designing Ocean Center, the last building on this campus, we hope the new building will participate in the campus life with a brand-new attitude and present possibilities that rarely existed before. This is a building with an open and welcoming atmosphere, while the injected public spaces encourage all the staff and students to participate and socialize; It is a building where intelligent brains may encounter each other and inter-disciplinary communication happens naturally. The design takes the organization of public spaces within the overall campus as a starting point. Instead of terminating the campus’ main axis on the plan, the building folds the axis to extend it upwards, with abundant public spaces injected along the way. The conventional quad typology for university campuses is re-interpreted here, to form a lively vertical quad system. Meanwhile, the semi-autonomous yet interdependent relationship among the research centers can be visualized in this vertical campus – a shared public level is sandwiched in between every two research centers. Conference room, brain-storming area, exhibition space, study rooms, cafés and other facilities can all be found in these shared levels. Furthermore, within each research center, the labs and offices are separated by a vertical gap, with stairs connecting different horizontal and vertical public spaces together. As time goes by, the plants in these shared spaces will flourish and extend the greenery on the ground all the way up to the roof garden at 60-meter high. The roof garden has a small open air theater which will be a very special panorama viewing platform in the campus, where one may not only enjoy the views of distant mountains and changes of the sky, but also glimpses of giraffes in Shenzhen Wildlife Zoo not too far away.


Hidden underneath the entry plaza, there is a deep-sea research tank, the most unique lab of this center. Three concrete cone-shaped skylights bring natural lights from different directions down to the basement, while forming abstract sculptures for the entry plaza. Round-windows on the concrete walls of the meeting rooms recall the memories of ships. The brise soleil on the façade is organized according to “ocean” by Debussy, varying its angles to produce a symphony of light play every day. The blue soffit colors of the public floors gradually change from deep color below to lighter ones above, not unlike the ocean with different light appearances at different depth. The architectural language of the building is born out of the local climate of Shenzhen. Abundant semi-outdoor spaces regulate the micro-climate of the building, while the thin-slab typology maximizes the potential of natural ventilation. Densely and carefully placed exterior shading device efficiently cut down the heat gain, yet still offers good views for the lab and offices. Passive strategies are adopted whenever possible to lower the energy consumption. Exposed structural concrete provides a long-lasting and maintenance free exterior finish, in direct contrast with its stucco-ed neighbors.

The mechanical rooms and shafts required for the laboratories, together with the vertical structural cores, are organized at both ends of the building, which then delivers the various building mechanical systems horizontally through the ceilings of the central corridor to different laboratories. This configuration leaves the research floors open and allows flexible re-partition should alternative future changes be needed. The research labs are planned according to a basic module. Offices and ancillary spaces are arranged in vicinity, to offer scientists both quietness and convenience.


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