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Various Associates Designed an Art School in Blue & White with the Concept of Creative Factory

Abandoned riverside building complex

Located in Shenzhen, the project is an art high school centering on international art programs, which is affiliated to Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts (GAFA). Various Associates was invited to transform several abandoned riverside buildings in an urban village into its campus.


Client: AIP Art School, Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts

Photographer: ZC Architectural Photography Studio / Yongmao Li

The school required rapid construction in a limited budget, and an artistic campus atmosphere that fits into its attribute. Through renovation and regeneration, the project will bring new spaces that balance art education with daily life in the neighborhood where it's situated.

Constraints turned into design solutions

The design team had to work out effective solutions within a few weeks to deal with several constraints and problems, including low budget, designated local construction team, the tight construction schedule due to the school's plan of opening in autumn semester, and the renovated facades' impact on the neighborhood.

In addition to solving those problems, Various Associates intended to empower both the school and the neighborhood through design interventions: integrating the built environment of the urban village with the art school's free and creative atmosphere, based on the concept of art factory, to inject young energy into the neighborhood; enabling the coexistence and mutual complementation between the art school and its surroundings; creating an architectural landmark featuring an appropriate scale.

"As the project is located beside the bend of a watercourse and across the river is a relatively important road, we added new facade languages to the existing buildings by adopting new colors and a simple light-permeable material to envelop the entire complex. In this way, the renovated buildings dialogue with its surroundings with a brand new image, and integrate into the urban fabrics, as well as local culture and life." Various Associates explained.

Volume reconstruction

To meet the new functional requirements, the design team reorganized the traffic nodes between buildings and worked out reasonable circulation routes that connect buildings at different heights. The central area enclosed by buildings is turned into a sports field, while the original underground garage is converted into an open-air sunken auditorium.

Newly added white materials and structures wrap the original building facades, which reconstruct the building volumes. The white structures form a strong contrast with the new blue wall coatings, together accentuating the neat, bright silhouette unique to the art school.

Closed loop of sustainable development

The "hollow wall" at the sports field is composed of a series of detachable installations named "Wave", which were designed by Various Associates for DESIGN IN BAY AREA 2020 Exhibition under the invitation of Shenzhen Institute of Interior Design. By adopting recyclable materials and modular construction methods, Various Associates hoped to break the situation of massive resource waste in exhibition design, and to fulfill its commitment to sustainability.

Each "Wave" is a modular table unit. Those modular units were quickly assembled and disassembled on the site of the exhibition, in a way that referred to traditional mortise-and-tenon joints and wooden furniture.

Under the support of several parties, those "Waves" were disassembled after the exhibition, and were recombined in this art school, to form various scenes to support campus activities and inspire students' creativity.

On behalf of three parties, Various Associates donated the design fees of this group of installations to impoverished area for school construction, to contribute to sustainable development and social good, truly realizing a closed loop of sustainable development.

New connection between spaces

To figure out the circulation route for connecting the several independent buildings with varied heights, Various Associates created a bright corridor, which links up different functional areas. The light-permeable exterior material unifies the facades. Bright daylight combined with clean colors make the architecture and interior pure and neat.

Polycarbonate sheets are used as the main material to wrap the original disorderly building facades. Those lightweight, fire-resistant and energy-saving sheets were prefabricated in factory and moved to the site for installation, which not only saved cost but also enhanced construction efficiency.

Blue in interior

Vivid blue and pure white become a visual identity of the art school. The functional spaces are diversified and flexible, and a series of spacious fluid spaces become an extension of classrooms. Interior structures are finished in blue, while the brownish red stairs clearly highlight the vertical traffic.

Public activity space is set at the school's entrance area. Considering the needs for temporary closure during school events and activities, the design team adopted traditional folding doors to ensure flexibility of the space.

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