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Gem School,

Suzhou China

Located in Suzhou, a major city of just over 6 million inhabitants in southeastern Jiangsu Province of  China, and about 100 km (62 mi) northwest of Shanghai., China, GEM School consists of new secondary and high school and primary and kindergarten additions to existing facilities. The new building is designed to accommodate teaching classrooms, library, music room, auditorium, dining hall, sport area and supporting administrative facilities for more than 1200 students with a total of 48 classrooms in four story teaching blocks. The design initiated from thinking about how to create a nurturing environment that celebrates creativity and nature and interaction rather than examination-oriented learning cultures. The main concept was to organize different programs like cells in nature and connect them with an organic element.  

Designed in the birth city of the famous Chinese Architect, Ioeh Ming Pei, the home of Sun Zi and the setting for his Art of. War book.  Marco Polo called Suzhou ‘the Venice’ of China.  Chinese people call it ‘Paradise on Earth”, the  design is inspired by local garden villas and the canals that flow throughout the city and blends magnificently with the local context. 

The overall layout of the school emphasizes on an introverted but welcoming nature of architecture. Playground is placed centrally, while the two teaching blocks encircle the central courtyard and additional dormitory building is located at west side of the site. All secondary functions are located in the surrounding circle. The courtyard within the teaching block, are formed through a complex interplay of different volumes, enriching spatial hierarchy and visual connections and connects students with natural light and landscape.

The flowing curve of the roof, nurtures the teaching blocks like organic stems of leaves. Supporting facilities and administrative functions are all under this curve path that connects the hallways to classrooms which are the main cells, through semi open and enclosed spaces that can host different levels of activities in this creative and productive learning environment.  

Twenty-four seat Classrooms face inward and are distributed orderly in each teaching block. Music and dance classrooms are located under the curved floating roof and close to the auditorium on the south side that helps to enhance acoustics while keeping distance from the teaching blocks.

The architecture also actively responses to the local sub tropical climate: stilt floor provides shading and protection against wind and rain; colonnade facilitates natural ventilation and balcony platform offers additional activity spaces for students while acting as a passive shading element.

The central courtyard is designed in a way that enhances the connection of the learning environment with nature, while also providing supervision and safety for students. Various activity spots such as Library garden, reflecting pond, reading garden and sports area are connected with regards to Chinese style garden design.

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