Designing a Prep School in China

CENTERBROOK, Conn. – Centerbrook is designing the interior spaces for Keystone Academy in Beijing, China, including 103 classrooms, three libraries, student and faculty residences for 1,000 people, a student center, some of its athletic facilities, and administrative offices. As is often typical in China, the mid-rise building shells have already been designed by others.

The first of its kind in the People’s Republic of China, this independent institution is based on the classic New England model for college preparatory schools. Centerbrook, which has worked on 31 independent school campuses in the United States, is responsible for nearly 750,000 square feet of interior design space at Keystone. Enrollment for the school is expected to be 1,650 students from first grade through high school, more than half of whom will be boarders.

Led by Keystone Academy President, Dr. Edward Shanahan, the former Headmaster at Choate Rosemary Hall, Keystone Academy is slated to open in 2014 for grades 1-9, with plans to add 10 through 12 by 2017. A bilingual curriculum in English and Chinese is aimed at preparing the students in China for education in American or other English-speaking universities, while allowing them to remain at home through high school so they can retain a clear sense of Chinese heritage, culture and identity. The faculty will include veteran teachers from American private schools.

“This is a cross-cultural and multi-faceted endeavor,” said Partner Mark Simon, FAIA, who is leading the Centerbrook design team along with Project Manager Brian Krafjack, AIA. “What makes this an especially exciting project is our charge to discover warm and welcoming visual inspiration from both cultures. In our research we are finding many more connections than one might ever have imagined.”

Centerbrook has to coordinate closely with an array of team members half way around the world, such as the architects who are designing the building shell, school leaders, translators, and members of the Provincial government. The design work is being done remotely using the latest technology, like Revit and other 3D modeling software. “As much as we would love to visit China, to walk the site and to meet with stakeholders in person, as we normally do,” Simon explained, “our assignment in this case is to communicate and design via long distance on a fast track pace. The building foundations were in before we started design.”

He added that the intercontinental collaboration has been “fantastic,” using such tools as Go-To-Meeting, Skype, and Newforma to exchange large data and complex design files. “Because of the time difference, we can send materials out in the evening, and the response from team members in China is waiting for us when we turn on our computers the next morning,” he said.