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Jan-Feb 2014 | volume 34 MCI (P) 010/11/2013

PPS 1786/04/2013(022947)

Architecture of Learning

Vo l u m e 3 4 J a n -F e b 2 0 14

Architecture of Learning Schools and Communities Scan here for a free gift! Hong Kong HKD72

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beyond By Y-Jean Mun-Delsalle

education Photo by Nic Lehoux



MAIN FEATURE We all know the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Well, it appears that it also takes a school to raise a village, as educational facilities progressively transform into centres beyond their live functions for all ages—young or old—to live, learn, work and play in, all at once. All around the world we are increasingly seeing that no matter where we learn, the place where we learn matters. Schools are no longer simply for education but a springboard for strengthening social cohesion, advancing Green solutions and developing the economic viability of the communities they serve. Schools are part of a community and, beyond teaching, serve as extensions of social or ecological space, and that can range from a school that contributes to the long-term sustainable development of a rural village to the construction of a smart school building that saves space and energy while enhancing human comfort, acting as an educational tool on its own. This, therefore, implies a paradigm shift in the approach to the design of school buildings, moving beyond programming for education towards permeable boundaries and greater connectivity with neighbourhood networks. Having lived on three different continents, Y-Jean is no stranger to change. A peripatetic lifestyle such as hers allows her to move easily among cultures, and she quickly adapts and adjusts to new environments, rising to meet the challenges and opportunities that necessarily emerge from the school of life. She finds joy and solace in writing and has been contributing to various regional and international titles, shining a spotlight in particular on art, design and horology. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her dancing, practising yoga or dreaming up scenarios for a murder-mystery novel she hopes to write in the future.

Rebuilding a Village Qinmo Primary School in Guangdong Province, located in one of China’s poorest areas with yearly earnings of US$200, goes beyond mere building construction by combining educational programmes and sustainable concepts. In 2006, the Green Hope Foundation had chosen Qinmo, a neglected and remote village, as the site for a new school focusing on environmental education.


Reinventing the traditional three-level concrete building with rectangular volumes surrounded by a high wall usually donated as schools in rural areas, the 1,200-square metre, US$150,000 design, completed in 2008, emphasises ecological responsibility. The project seeks to rebuild the notion of the village as a community and to reinforce the idea that education is the primary tool for sustainable development, introducing villagers to changes in methods of agricultural production so the village becomes less reliant on outside remittances and moves towards economic self-sufficiency. The objective is the long-term sustainability of the village, and the hope is that the villagers will gradually resume interest in rural productivity as an alternative to the mass exodus to factory towns by the young and able-bodied, leaving behind children and the elderly, where farming increasingly becomes a secondary activity and the inhabitants depend on the income of their migrant parents, children or relatives.

Schools are no longer simply for education but a springboard for strengthening social cohesion, advancing Green solutions and developing the economic viability of the communities they serve.


1. Qinmo Primary School

The school gets its shape from the existing rice terraces on the site and blends into the agricultural landscape. The linear structure of classrooms creates a public space facing the village side and classrooms with views to the landscape on the other side. Its façade is made of colourful bricks which are individually painted by the villagers.

Part of the long-term strategy of the Qinmo Village project to encourage environmental and economic self-sustainability involving seven individually-funded projects, the construction of the school building was followed by the conversion of Qinmo’s old school—a traditional courtyard building—into a hybrid community centre, consisting of a meeting room, dormitory, large dining area, communal kitchen and office space, and eco-household farm complete with working kitchen garden and waste recycling system. As the village had not spoilt its agricultural land with chemical fertilisers or pollutants, the villagers have the chance to grow organic products like premium chicken and tea tree oil that can be sold in the Hong Kong market.

2. Qinmo school playground

The basketball court and playground connect directly with the stepped seating, resulting in a theatre space that is used for village events as well as morning roll call and exercise sessions.

3. Qinmo school library

Designed by Joshua Bolchover and John Lin of Rural Urban Framework, a non-profit architecture studio based at the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Hong Kong, each building project is coupled with an initiative for the education of the villagers, whether it is through a school roof garden as an alternative teaching facility or the demonstration of eco-household farm for learning sustainable agricultural and animal husbandry techniques. Bolchover remarks, “Currently, China is not sustainable. The rural-urban thresholds where we work are volatile and subsequent to rapid change through demolition and construction. Urbanisation is the mechanism to alleviate people from rural poverty. Conceptually and strategically, I do not believe that an objective to deliver ‘sustainable’ projects makes sense. Instead, we advocate for robust typologies that can adapt and evolve as the context transforms. We utilise rudimentary environmental ideas—recycled bricks, thermal mass, cross ventilation and water filtration—to improve the building’s performance.”

Qinmo Primary School 1 Exterior view 2 Large open spaces are used by the public to hold village events 3 Axonometric diagram of the new school’s scheme

The library is built as a playful landscape for students. Instead of furniture, the floor is raised to create void ‘islands’ for seating and reading.

4. Qinmo school roof garden

The roof is transformed into a series of community gardens. The students will engage in caring for the garden as part of their educational curriculum.

5. Qinmo school toilet

A typical village toilet is ‘wrapped’ in a screen of open brick structure, resulting in better ventilation and light.

6. Qinmo community centre

The original village school is renovated and transformed into a community centre with a meeting room, dormitory, large dining area, communal kitchen and office space. The centre will be used by the villagers as a place to host eco-workshops and volunteers.

Intended to mix in with the village landscape, Qinmo Primary School is shaped like a sinuous farming terrace, its roof is used as a community garden—the caring of which is integrated into the school curriculum—and the classrooms below provide views of the farmland. Located on the boundary between the village and the fields, since rice terraces traversed the site, instead of flattening the ground, a cut and filled earth strategy, creating a S-shaped edge along which the school could sit, was used. A continuous series of village-facing steps extend from the basketball court and playground to the roof, allowing filtered light to enter the classrooms, resulting in a new public space with built-in theatre seating that is used for large-scale village events such as New Year lion dance performances, morning assemblies, exercise sessions and basketball. Students and villagers participated in the project by painting individual bricks of the building

7. Qinmo eco-household

The demonstration household farm will include pigs and chickens, a greenhouse, and a selection of vegetables. Expertise in setting up the farm will come from staff of Kadoorie farms in Hong Kong.

8. Qinmo Village public space 3


The village centre is programmed through landscaping and integration of concrete furnitures.


MAIN FEATURE façade in bright fluorescent colours rather than tiling over the brickwork. Bolchover says, “Typically, schools in China are always gated and fenced off. We intentionally never design the fence and keep the school as porous as possible. Each of our schools contains an outdoor public space, sometimes in the form of stepped seating which can be used for meetings, assemblies or celebrations. Villages in China are characteristically dense and lack public gathering spaces. From the beginning, the school was envisioned as a public building; not just a school for children, but a public space for the entire village. During holidays and special times of the year, the villagers use the school as a large outdoor theatre and a centre of village activity. We also introduce spaces that can be used as libraries or play areas to encourage use after the school day has finished.”

Qinmo Primary School 4 The school’s façade filled with bricks in bright colours 5 Screens to reduce solar glare and to allow cross ventilation 6 Community garden 7 S-shaped edge of the school 8 Spaces in between the steps allow filtered light to enter the classrooms 9 Shared spaces for reading

Commissioned in 2008, the 450-square metre, US$22,500 Qinmo Community Centre was completed a year later. The Hong Kong-based charity, Chinese Culture Promotion Society (CCPS), founded by Lucy Tsai, which grants needy but gifted students scholarships and financial assistance to complete their higher education, and upgrades school facilities in China’s impoverished regions, collaborated with an agricultural research organisation, Kadoorie Farm & Botanic Garden, to determine the old school’s adaptation and reuse strategy. Tsai relates, “The students we have sponsored from this county are committed to return to their hometown to motivate the young to aim for higher education, and to bring to the village kids all sorts of meaningful entertainment. Education is a good medicine to cure poverty. Our first university graduation ceremony in 2012 was held in the village. For rural regions, school buildings should not serve only as classrooms; because of the lack of facilities, schools should be designed with a multifunctional purpose in mind.” Bolchover concludes, “The Qinmo Village project consists of two components: the new school and the old school that has been adapted into a community learning hub. The two work in synergy and reflect an idea to foster an educational cycle in the village. Each summer and winter, [CCPS] runs an educational camp at the old school, inviting all its sponsored children from other villages to play, cook and learn together. As these children progress, some will attend university. Each year, they are required to attend the camp, and their knowledge and experience are passed on to the younger children. Some have even become teachers in their own right. The old school also functions as an after-school space: there are games, books and a greenhouse with planting beds. Other villagers also gather here, creating an informal space of exchange and an alternate site for education other than the classroom.” 4









Currently, China is not sustainable. The ruralurban thresholds where we work are volatile and subsequent to rapid change through demolition and construction. Waterbank School 10 & 11 Exterior views 12 Students gather in the courtyard that conceals a large underground cistern

Low Tech, High Impact Turning conventional wisdom on its head, the Waterbank Schools initiative—the brainchild of architects and social entrepreneurs, David Turnbull and Jane Harrison, who head New Jersey-based non-profit PITCHAfrica— is transforming the design of school buildings worldwide by using rain as a catalyst for social, economic and environmental transformation. Showcasing a school’s commitment to sustainability and community development, Waterbank Schools serve as a pedagogical tool addressing social needs, helping people rise out of poverty mainly due to a lack of access to clean water, and making possible dramatic improvements in hygiene, health, crop cultivation and nutrition. PITCHAfrica takes a holistic approach to school infrastructure design in semi-arid regions, believing that education must go hand-in-hand with the provision of basic resources like clean water, food and sanitation on-site for students, who then go on to spread knowledge about managing interrelated environmental resources at home, in their villages and throughout the region. Founding partners Harrison and Turnbull, who describe PITCH as a “manmade ecosystem capable of empowering and transforming communities”, see the Waterbank Schools as a transformative, low-cost building prototype and an effective example of a community engagement tool for poor regions in need of water, as once the schools become resource rich, they can teach the immediate community rainwater harvesting, water filtration, conservation agriculture and hygiene techniques. Patrick Mwaura, headmaster of PITCHAfrica’s first rainwater-harvesting Waterbank School building at Uaso Nyiro Primary School in Kenya’s Central Highlands, says, “The staff, pupils, parents and surrounding community are delighted that our hard work and efforts to transform our school from a semi-arid desert into an oasis of greenery with water to spare have been recognised. This transformation was enabled by the construction of the Waterbank building, which has ensured that the attitudes of our staff and pupils are positive and conducive to learning and discipline. Attendance has dramatically increased and our students are taking home the lessons about health, water and nutrition, and strengthening the whole community.”



The facility serves an underprivileged pastoralist community where most inhabitants live on less than US$1 per day. Since its opening, school attendance has increased from 25 to 94 percent, with waterborne disease levels dropping to zero. “We are committed to working with communities across the African continent and in water-stressed regions globally to show how annual rainfall is so often sufficient to address water needs and can serve as a powerful catalyst for a sustainable model of development,” states Harrison. “At PITCHAfrica and with our partner organisation ATOPIA Research, we are developing what we call ‘dynamic infrastructure’ for highly-complex social and environmental situations. Dynamic infrastructure integrates essential social, economic and environmental processes with the physical design and structure of the building, creating an active platform for community engagement, and social and environmental support and transformation. The Waterbank Schools initiative is an exciting example of this.” The Waterbank School building at Uaso Nyiro Primary School—recently named “The Greenest School on Earth” by the US Green Building Council (the other recipient was Sing Yin Secondary School in Hong Kong, see page 68)—is a simply-constructed, low-tech but smart alternative to the four-classroom barrack-style, linear school building prevalent throughout the developing world. Costing less than US$60,000, it educates 350 students and supplies water to the 700-strong school community. In fact, a Waterbank School can be built for the same cost, using local labour, with the same materials and the same expertise as a traditional school building, but provides twice the accommodation and numerous life-changing amenities. Organised around a central courtyard that serves as a community classroom and that has already become an important gathering place for the school community, it houses an underground reservoir for water from the 557-square metre roof, designed to collect instead of deflect rainwater. The school harvests, stores and filters 350,000 litres of clean water annually for the children, provides gardens for growing vegetables, and includes a large communal space for community workshops and a courtyard theatre for environment-based plays. The perimeter stone enclosure protects the school, gardens and water supply from elephants and strong winds, and creates a comfortable microclimate. Built by hand in four months, the school is naturally lit and ventilated, consumes no energy, grows its fresh food resources sustainably, and carries out training programmes covering animal conservation, beehive and honey conservation, community agriculture, reforestation and cooking fuel conservation. It also incorporates technologies that can be locally produced and establishes local markets and enterprise opportunities for the future, like the ceramic water filtration system and Wonderbag cooker that reduces cooking time. Rachel Gutter, director of the Center for Green Schools at the US Green Building Council, comments, “By their very nature, schools around the world—including the Waterbank School building at Uaso Nyiro Primary School—inherently function as centres of their community. The Waterbank School building takes that one step further. Through the 12




This is the very core of sustainability: to ensure that we, our children, and our children’s grandparents have what we need to not just survive, but to thrive. Portland Community College (PCC) 13 The building form communicates the natural ventilation and passive cooling strategies through ventilation stacks that organise the circulation spine 14 Large areas of glazing around the building, and between classrooms and commons create transparency, generating excitement about learning

school’s efforts, it is ensuring that its students and families have clean water to drink and healthy food to eat. This is the very core of sustainability: to ensure that we, our children, and our children’s grandparents have what we need to not just survive, but to thrive.” A finalist of the 2013 “Buckminster Fuller Challenge”, which supports the development and implementation of solutions with major potential to solve the world’s most pressing problems as quickly as possible while enhancing ecological integrity, and winner of its “Interface Support” award, the Waterbank School echoes Fuller’s famous call to the world’s most inventive and creative people to “make the world work for 100 percent of humanity”. Sharifah Taqi, programme manager of the “Buckminster Fuller Challenge”, notes, “Waterbank Schools are a working demonstration of the remarkable leveraging power of water catchment as a sociallyintegrated resource awareness tool. The buildings are literal demonstrations of a simple set of solutions to multiple complex problems, and quickly become communication and educational tools for the community. Teachers, students and parents are brought into the construction process, and the schools are used for many purposes—a church, performance space, and environmental centre—providing a knowledge-sharing and training hub for the surrounding region. The Waterbank Schools design is an elegant and practical way of addressing sanitation, health and education.” A Living Laboratory “Schools and colleges are de facto community centres and neighbourhood gathering places,” states Timothy R. Eddy, principal at Portland-based Hennebery Eddy Architects. “They have become catalysts in the dialogue about their immediate ecosystems and their communities’ relationship to the global ecosystem. They are, like our children, a key part of our greatest hope.” His firm’s US$7.2 million, 1,254-square metre Newberg Center addition to Portland Community College’s (PCC) network in Oregon, completed in 2011, is the first net-zero higher education building in the state, accessible to broad socio-economic groups. Its mission is to “advance the region’s long-term vitality by delivering accessible, quality education to support the academic, professional and personal development of the…communities PCC serves”. The one-storey building takes into account the scale of the immediate residential area, while providing a community gathering space under the south-facing roof extending to create a large, shaded and sheltered entry plaza. Substantial glazing around the building and between the classrooms and commons introduces transparency, allowing community members to experience the educational environment as well as generating excitement about learning. Eddy elaborates, “The campus master plan addresses the surrounding residential neighbourhood by creating an intentionally permeable edge that welcomes the community onto campus and establishes future open spaces, a central quad, pedestrian systems, parking and sites for six academic buildings.” Throughout the design process, the architects worked closely with community and user groups, including those representing city governments, high school students and local organisations, for example holding a student meeting to gather input and goals for the academic building, and hands-on design workshops where participants shared ideas and built consensus.


A model of a school as a testing ground for new technologies, sustainable strategies and energy-efficient design, the centre educates users on sustainability and conservation. Aiming to satisfy PCC’s new sustainability goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050, the LEED Platinum-designed facility supports this mission by serving as a living laboratory for looking at energy-use strategies. As such, it is used as a testing structure for new systems so that facilities staff can learn about the technologies and the systems’ maintenance before they are applied on other buildings across PCC’s three campuses and seven educational centres. Providing classroom, office and common space for the new 15-acre campus in Newberg, a small town in the Willamette Valley, this first building in the master plan minimises energy use by focusing on four strategies: creating a highly-efficient envelope, maximising passive design strategies; using efficient systems; and engaging the user. A 109kW rooftop solar system supplies the remaining energy necessary for the building. Eddy says, “As a public institution with a deep environmental commitment, PCC wanted to demonstrate that sustainability is not only for private, big-budget institutions. It can, and should, be done on a public budget to create sustainable spaces accessible to all socio-economic groups. The Newberg Center is a living laboratory where the building is used as part of the curriculum. One example of an opportunity to engage students was a recent tour led by Hennebery Eddy Architects with a class from PCC’s architectural and drafting programme. Students were able to see first-hand the use of natural ventilation, daylighting and photovoltaic panels that will allow the centre to reach net-zero energy use. Creating opportunities to engage students and use the building as part of the curriculum is exactly what PCC envisioned for Newberg Center—students are learning from realworld applications of sustainable and energy-efficient design.” 14


Photos by Stephen A. Miller


MAIN FEATURE Portland Community College (PCC) 15 Concept diagram 16 The patterning of solid and glass in the building’s glass walls helps maximise transparency while maintaining appropriate levels of insulation 17 A 100kW rooftop photovoltaic array, including 25kW in bifacial solar panels, covers the outdoor plaza 18 Site plan 19 Ceiling fans provide a 3-degree drop in perceived ambient temperature through air movement, while using a fraction of the energy of airconditioning units

Winner of the 2012 “AIA Committee on the Environment Top Ten Green Projects” award, the building is organised around a central circulation spine. Oriented on an east-west axis to maximise the north and south building exposures, three classrooms, an administrative suite and service core are located on the north side of the building to receive diffused natural daylight, while the multipurpose rooms that may be transformed into a central commons for student, teacher and community interaction are to the south. “Sustainable design features are integrated building blocks of the design rather than attachments,” Eddy comments. “We approach sustainable design with common sense, long-term thinking and simple, smart design. Our Green buildings use resources wisely, yet remain high-performing, cost-effective and durable. Longevity is key to sustainability; therefore, we design flexible spaces that can evolve and remain in use over time. By incorporating features such as natural light, fresh air and low-toxicity products, we balance value for our client with health, comfort and environmental stewardship.” White oak doors and interior panels offset the exposed concrete and structural steel, while skylights and sloped ceilings provide even daylighting and eliminate reliance on electric lighting during the day. Natural ventilation is carried out via wind-driven turbines on each ventilation stack that bring in fresh air through louvres and release hot air through their tops, while ceiling fans provide cooling. A structural steel frame with large spans allows interior walls to be removed or reconfigured for flexible repurposing of the building as the campus evolves. Sustainable building materials were selected, including local and recycled materials, and 85 percent of construction waste was diverted from local landfills. Efficient landscaping and weather-based irrigation were incorporated to reduce water use.

Image courtesy of Hennebery Eddy Architects

15 17

Photo by Nic Lehoux

1. 2. 3. 4.

Photo by Stephen A. Miller




Newberg Center Future quad Street extension Future bypass right of way

Image courtesy of Hennebery Eddy Architects


Photo by Nic Lehoux


Futurarc jan feb 14 vol 34 main feature green schools  

FuturArc Article on Green Schools featuring PITCHAfrica's WATERBANK School

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