A challenging commission within the CMU (Chinese Megablock Urbanism)
At the beginning of 2019, Crossboundaries was invited, along with seven other architecture studios, to design a kindergarten, out of seven given projects (six kindergartens and one school). The projects are located in the rapidly growing Haidian district, in the northwest of Beijing, outside the fifth and partly sixth ring road. Each studio was assigned to develop one project, with four plots in Qiangshan and three in other neighborhoods, similar in size, overall requirements, density, number of classrooms, coverage, and budget.
While assessing the sites, Crossboundaries was struck by the homogeneity in the site conditions for each educational facility: they were all located either on a corner of a residential mega block or along the perimeter in the middle; all plots had a more or less similar rectangular shape and proportion site area and typically with residential buildings surrounding it, all uniform in height.
The entire area of the city is newly built and differs little from other residential suburban areas of other Chinese cities nowadays: wide roads, sparse networks, residential blocks with a central common area of green land within the gated perimeters, high dependence on vehicles, unfriendly pedestrian access and monotonous, repetitive facades.
This way of city planning, albeit flawed, was a pragmatic response to the rate of urbanization that China has seen in the last decades, and Beijing’s peripheral growth is no different in this respect. This approach is gradually changing, with the government adopting new guidelines that call for more compact cities but more expressive and inclusive: denser networks of streets, more pedestrian and cycling lanes, better public transport, mixed-use zoning, and more green space.
As for the Qiangshan neighborhood, the overall context remains as the residential megablock, dotted with occasional educational and commercial facilities concentrated in certain areas.