Chinese university design by Foster draws on local building traditions

Foster + Partners 2047_FP598394_webview

The new Foster + Partners China Resources University in Xiao Jing Wan – a coastal urban development located to the east of Shenzhen – is now open.

Dr. Fu Yuning, Chairman of the China Resources Group officially inaugurated the 55,000m2 university campus is part of a larger mixed use development designed by the practice, consisting of a hotel, clubhouse, retail and residential components.

The management training institute accommodates 500 students, with residential facilities for up to 300 students and 35 staff.

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Five teaching buildings and the innovation centre flank the central boulevard at the crest of the hill, which terminates with the main auditorium building, containing the main lecture theatre for 580 people and other meeting rooms.

The library, additional auditoria, students’ bar, gym and residences step down the side, maintaining sea views, and are linked by lush landscaping. The buildings are arranged with a strong horizontal emphasis, and use the same restrained palette of materials in their construction, consisting of fair-faced concrete exposed internally and externally, bronze coloured cladding and a specially developed clay brick.

Chris Bubb, architect partner at Foster + Partners said: “The idea was to create a cascading complex of buildings and spaces – a series of teaching and living spaces, terraces and informal streets that encourage interaction and a sense of wellbeing.”

This area of Shenzhen has a history of brick masonry buildings, and the design of the university buildings follow in this tradition with a contemporary interpretation of the conventional building block.

More than half a metre long, the specially designed brick is made from locally available earth which has a high clay content. The entire manufacturing process was carried out at a neighbouring factory, where the machine-made bricks were given a rough texture by hand-pressing coarse stones against them before firing.

The bricks were baked at varying temperatures between 1250 and 1290 degrees celsius to obtain slight variations in colour shades, matching the different tones of earth found in the surrounding area.

Bubb added: “The brick is the basic building block from which the building derives its character. We worked very hard to refine its size and proportions, even sourcing the earth from the region to ensure the building is of its place.”

Each brick – 60 millimetres deep and 42 millimetre high – was overlaid with an 8 millimetre layer of coloured mortar – the shade of which was carefully selected to exude warmth and complement the colour of the fair-faced concrete structure. The result is a precise, well-engineered complex of buildings that derive their character from the basic building block – the brick, simultaneously reflecting the area’s vernacular heritage and the contemporary nature of the university buildings.

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