Regeneration of Shanghai Foreign Language School Affiliated to SISU / ACRE Atelier

Text description provided by the architects. Shanghai Foreign Language School Affiliated with SISU is a “fairy school” in the minds of Shanghai parents. The school is located in the old urban area of Hongkou District of Shanghai, not only with the inner ring elevated and metro line 3 rail bridge to the southeast, but also old communities under renovation to the southwest which is facing irregular land use, complex interfaces, and high building density. There are three main points in the renewal design of this kind of campus: complexity and difficulty, small project size, and short construction time. It is often difficult to control the design and construction quality of this kind of project.

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Regeneration of Shanghai Foreign Language School Affiliated to SISU / ACRE Atelier - Exterior Photography

Over the past three years, A.C.R.E Atelier has insisted on “turning zero into whole”, gradually completing the design of the teaching building, underground playground, podium, souvenir shop, etc., and linking them into a central activity area of the campus, to promote the organic growth of the campus through a slight way.

Regeneration of Shanghai Foreign Language School Affiliated to SISU / ACRE Atelier - Exterior Photography, Windows, Facade
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Updating: build a “thin building”. The west elevation of the laboratory building, which has been renovated several times over the past 20 years, is an artificial “complex composition” of stone and glass curtain walls, and the vertical keels with a space of 0.9m make the space closed. There are not enough ventilation windows in the summer heat, and the evacuation width is only 1.1m, making the space crowded and with no space to rest. The multi-purpose hall on the fourth floor was outdated, with inadequate equipment and fire protection to meet the school’s increasingly innovative teaching concepts and activities.

Regeneration of Shanghai Foreign Language School Affiliated to SISU / ACRE Atelier - Interior Photography, Stairs, Facade, Windows
Regeneration of Shanghai Foreign Language School Affiliated to SISU / ACRE Atelier - Exterior Photography

The west side of the laboratory building was originally a lawn, which was the remaining space of the campus that was not highly utilized, but the 4m width provided an opportunity for construction. With this thin piece of land, we could abandon the usual skin-type renovation and build an ultra-thin and independent building with a width of 4m and a height of 19mstructure. The building is naturally juxtaposed on the west side of the old building. The ground floor is open and the gray space under the overhanging eaves on the first floor becomes the screen wall for the entrance of the old building.

Regeneration of Shanghai Foreign Language School Affiliated to SISU / ACRE Atelier - Interior Photography, Stairs, Windows, Facade
Regeneration of Shanghai Foreign Language School Affiliated to SISU / ACRE Atelier - Interior Photography, Facade
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More importantly, the independent structure unshackles the space given by the seismic code [ The laboratory building was constructed before the implementation of the seismic code (2013). However, if only partial structural changes were made during the update, the overall structure would also need to be reinforced according to the new code, which would have a significant impact on the budget of this project]. The space of the staircase is no longer limited to the double-running form but is transformed into a continuous space circling the two walls. The functional staircase is transformed into a “feasible, visible, and swimmable” corridor, which makes the traffic of daily activities poetic, and seems to be a landscape tour with a distant view from the mountain.

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Regeneration of Shanghai Foreign Language School Affiliated to SISU / ACRE Atelier - Interior Photography, Facade

Entering the auditorium through a door that has been deconstructed from Joan MirĂ³’s(1893-1983) paintings, the stark contrast between the two spaces presents a “transparency” in the relationship between the thin(new) building and the old one – the relationship between the new space suspended in the air and the old space overlapping with each other. The thin space and the auditorium space evoke the architects’ desire to realize “a situation of interpenetration without visual destruction of each other.” The auxiliary space of the auditorium (the projection equipment room) is located on the fourth floor of the thin building, a space that cannot be perceived from the facade. In a other word, the semi-transparent, vantage-shaped block on the fourth floor of the thin building provides an auxiliary functional space in the direction of the stage, behind which is a new image of the entire experimental building.

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Material Innovation. The “transparency” of contemporary architecture often points to energy-intensive glass curtain walls. Glass curtain walls are restricted by the Elementary and Secondary School Design Code from being used above the first floor due to the risk of falling. As a result, it is often a challenge to provide transparent spaces that are sheltered from sun and rain and naturally ventilated in campus renewal. In the design of the vertical vestibule, we first tried to make it completely open, but the headmaster repeatedly emphasized the need to rain protection. However, we did not want the space to be so completely enclosed that we needed to install some energy-consuming features such as air-conditioning and fresh air equipment.

Regeneration of Shanghai Foreign Language School Affiliated to SISU / ACRE Atelier - Interior Photography, Stairs, Facade, Handrail
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Regeneration of Shanghai Foreign Language School Affiliated to SISU / ACRE Atelier - Exterior Photography, Cityscape, Windows

Drawing on the traditional Jiangnan architecture in China support window structure, the design was transformed into an extremely light “wind and rain eaves”. The use of a semi-transparent ETFE membrane for the eaves, the thickness of the membrane is only 0.25mm, each square weight 450 grams, so the structure is mainly used to withstand wind loads. It made the “wind and rain eaves” look light by doing this. At the same time, the stacked pivot windows maximize hydrophobicity in rainy weather. The new material creates an unfamiliar futuristic sense of the everyday “pivots windows”, and creates delicate visual sensations under different perspectives and light. When students look out from the inside and the outside, the rich transparency makes the space gentler and also creates more possibilities for them to stop and communicate with each other.

Regeneration of Shanghai Foreign Language School Affiliated to SISU / ACRE Atelier - Exterior Photography, Windows

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