The dilemma of urban renewal
China's cities are no longer a blank sheet of paper from a period of massive and rapid construction. The urbanization process is slowing down, gradually shifting from large-scale construction to small-scale renewal, with old elements being washed away and new contradictions settling in every day. The new campus of the second elementary school in Tiantai, Taizhou, Zhejiang province, struggled with the dilemma brought about by urban renewal from the very beginning of its design.
The old campus of Tiantai No. 2 Primary School is in the center of the city. The old campus has a small area and no sports field, which will be demolished according to the new city plan. In order to facilitate students' access to school, the new campus still needs to be located in the city center, but the site is far from the area needed for the corresponding class size. At the same time, the new campus site was surrounded on three sides by old buildings in the city, with only the west side opening onto the city; the scheduled construction period was less than one year due to the requirements of the old city. The project's construction period was less than one year due to the requirements of the old city. Thus, the project began with the typical characteristics of urban renewal in China - tight land use, complex environment, and rushed construction.
Site constraints and challenges
Under such conditions, the design has to face many contradictions and limitations in reality.
First of all, there is a contradiction between the small size of the site and the students' need for a playground where they can run freely. There are 36 classes in the school, and according to the standard of Zhejiang Province, the ideal land area is more than 46.5 mu (3. 1hm2 ), but the actual land is only 10.8 mu (0. 7hm2 ). Under such tight land conditions, if the 200m standard running track is built next to the school building on the ground according to the conventional practice, the running track will take up 41% of the land, and the campus will become very crowded, and the school building will be more confined to each other, affecting the classroom lighting and the number of floors will be too much. If there is no playground, building in the school building can meet the design requirements, but the students lack a place to run, and the children's playful nature cannot be satisfied. The design seems to be caught in the dilemma of "fish and bear's paw": do we want a playground for running or a reasonable school building?
Secondly, it was necessary to face the problem of the relationship between the large volume of the school and the complex surrounding environment. The site is located in a rectangular shape in the heart of the city. The site is surrounded on three sides by small volumes of old residential buildings, and only on the northwest side is adjacent to the city square. The surrounding urban fabric is extruded and heterogeneous, and the small spacing between the volumes is the road, and there is an extreme lack of public space in the narrow streets. In this inward-looking site, what should the school appear as?
Finally, there is the conflict between shorter design cycles and complex design conditions. The scheduled project construction period was less than one year, and the design cycle was compressed accordingly. Is there any room for innovation given the complex requirements of the base conditions and the school building function itself? Faced with these problems and contradictory constraints due to urbanization, the designer wanted the school to address the site constraints in an interconnected and win-win way that would allow it to defend the students' right to run and at the same time meet the functional use of the school. It should be a strong interloper, living in harmony with its surroundings, while becoming the center of the urban area.
Rooftop runway: functional layered design and bottom-up power space
The design of Tiantai No. 2 Elementary School begins by placing the 200m standard running track on the roof. This strategy was adopted out of the desire to use architecture as a carrier of emotion. In many urban structures in the past, the emotions of the users were often ignored and suppressed. In this case, the emotional need for children to run is very strong due to the constraints of the site, and a breakthrough is urgently needed. The design effectively meets this emotional need and defends the children's right to run happily. The inner and outer boundaries of the building volume are the shape of the boundary of the rooftop running track, without unnecessary formal language and superfluous decoration, and the use of the running track is very real and original. The runway is the main form of the building.
There is a strict rational logic behind this seemingly romantic whimsy. Placing the track on the roof creates more than 3,000 m2 of space for activities on the first floor. At the same time, the elliptical shape of the building gives the students a sense of inward security. At the same time, the placement of the running track on the roof allows the number of floors to be limited to four as required, which is more harmonious with the surrounding buildings and provides better light and ventilation between the front and rear volumes.
The placement of the track on the roof also responds to the constraints of the site with a vertical distribution of functions. An example of functional stratification is the Downtown Athletic Club, a representative of "crowded culture" described by Koolhaas in "New York City in a Frenzy". The Downtown Athletic Club, located in the southern part of Manhattan, is detached from its exterior and interior, and from its form and function, as it appears from the outside to be an inconspicuous building among the many skyscrapers in Manhattan, while inside is the content of sports that complements the difference in Manhattan's financial function. There is no specific sequence or hierarchical relationship between the floors of the building, and the different sports functions are given their own space in the skyscraper at different horizontal cut-off levels, and are moved from floor to floor by 13 elevators. "Each plane of the Downtown Sports Club is an abstract composition of social activities, describing the performance of different fragments of the metropolitan urban spectacle on a larger scale.
The functional layering layout of Tiantai No. 2 Elementary School is a new interpretation of the functional layering of the Downtown Athletic Club. In a small site, instead of getting a limited local area by dividing it equally in the same plane, a mixed pattern of vertical stacking is used to cope with the intensification of the site and release the area required for each function. The 200m standard running track is placed on the roof, and the ground floor is a public activity area, with classrooms, laboratories and offices in the middle. The profile contains a variety of functional spaces and is connected from the first floor to the roof by an outdoor staircase. The building is highly iconic, but this iconicity is not a formal language label created by the architect (authority), but rather an autonomy of form brought about by the runway. Unlike the complex and closed functional system inside the Downtown Athletic Club, the track of Tiantai No. 2 Elementary School gives function to the rooftop building and urban life, and the track is open to the public, both as a place for students to run happily and as an incubator for the intersection of urban life.
Students run on the roof closer to the sky, providing a unique experience of the ground being lifted. This model is also an inheritance and critique of the classic Fiat car factory rooftop test track. This Fiat car factory, located in Turin, Italy, was opened in 1923, and the lanes used for car testing were placed on the factory roof to integrate production, assembly, testing and product. In a Fiat car factory: the building is a closed-loop system, from production to testing, the building becomes a link in an efficient production line, highly intensive in order to increase production efficiency and save land. The factory itself is cut off from the city and the environment. The existence of the roof ring motorway is a top-down manifestation of power. The factory is a production machine that exists efficiently and narcissistically, and power is reinforced and concentrated in the ring-shaped building.
Tiantai No.2 Elementary School, on the other hand, is a rediscovery of the power of this circular, centralized classical space. The rooftop track serves the school on the one hand and is open to the public on the other. Citizens walk and exercise on the rooftop playground on weekends to get closer to the blue sky, and the track becomes a public space in the city in the crowded urban environment, and the squeezed urban life in the old city, which has no place to be housed, is released on the rooftop track. The ring is also a centralized power, the power of the students, the power of the citizens, the power of the masses, a power that is open and bottom-up.
For placing the runway on the roof, the safety of students also needs to be fully considered. There are three layers of protective fences for the runway on the roof of the building, the outermost layer is a 1.8m high reinforced glass protective wall, the middle is a 50cm wide green barrier, and the third protection is a 1.2m high protective fence to ensure students' safety. For the noise problem, a spring shock absorber is installed every 50cm under the plastic runway to damp the vibration by means of a double-layer buffer structure, and the whole runway on the roof of the building is like a suspended runway to solve the possible co-vibration problem.
Centripetal atrium: an open circular space
The oval inner courtyard space is enclosed by a volume boundary shaped by an oval circular runway. The inner courtyard space is composed of three levels of interfaces, the first level is a bar that surrounds the entire inner courtyard interface, reinforcing the sense of encirclement and wrapping around the inner courtyard interface. The second level is a 3-meter overhanging outer gallery. In addition to facilitating evacuation, the corridor is deliberately widened to provide a space for students to have fun between classes. The third level is the boundary of the classroom, which can be lit through the glass windows facing the inner courtyard. The continuous outdoor staircase in the inner courtyard acts as a "disruptive" element in this circular interface. The outdoor steel staircase continues from the first floor to the top runway, connecting the levels, and students run and play between the upper and lower levels, making the traversal between levels a wandering experience. The circular inner courtyard space, where students can see each other, provides a sense of inward-looking security and adds to the playfulness of wandering between inner courtyards. At the same time the white building serves as a backdrop for students to run around the outer corridor in brightly colored clothing, like brushes waving on a canvas, becoming the true subject of the school. The view interacts with the space and the students interact with the space.
As the building plan is rotated 15° within the site, three series of courtyard spaces are created between the otherwise homogeneous site and the building. The three elevated spaces on the ground floor are connected to the central element and the courtyard, creating a coherent flow and line of sight between these areas, suggesting the existence of the rear space and creating a richer space within the limited site. Here, form, flow and space are highly unified, and the geometric form stimulates a subtle relationship between flow, space and functional use.
Like many cities in China today, the site conditions of Tiantai No. 2 Elementary School are special and reflect the typical characteristics of urban renewal. It is the coexistence of this specialness and typicality that forces the architects to reflect on the crux of the urbanization process, to make extreme thinking, and to stimulate the creativity of breaking the boundaries by the limitations, and to make it replicable, providing a new model in the process of urban renewal.