NSFL School: Horizontal Garden

Studio Link-Arc

Architects: Studio Link-Arc
Location: Shenzhen, China
Area: 54.200 m2
Year: 2018
Photography: Su Shengliang

Shenzhen Nanshan Foreign Language School (NSFL School) is a 54,200 m² elementary and middle school campus, comprising regular and specialized classrooms, library, gymnasium, indoor swimming pool, auditorium, and dormitory, along with dining halls and dedicated playgrounds. Located in Shenzhen’s DaChong neighborhood, the NSFL elementary and middle school campus represents the last piece of a decade-long development, which saw the area change from a compact industrial outskirt into a vertical city.

The NSFL campus is conceived as a sweeping, horizontal garden that stands in sharp contrast with the ever denser, ever more vertical urban environment it serves. The design intentionally breaks the distinction between building and open space – which defines its surroundings – in favor of a low-rise linear hybrid of closed, semi-enclosed, and green open spaces. To achieve the low-rise condition, Studio Link-Arc’s design uses the natural slope of the site to top the large program volumes of the gym, pool, dining halls and auditorium with a series of terraced platforms, which become a new ground for dedicated teaching spaces and playgrounds.

This configuration permits an unrestrained linear organization of all teaching spaces without the need to develop the building vertically. The design uses a three-story bar arrangement of staggered classrooms that sweep the site from east to west, chasing every available square inch of sunlight penetrating the surrounding concrete forest. The sinuous motion of classroom ribbons generates a fluid sequence of outdoor spaces tailored to the specific needs of each teaching area. The dynamic, elongated courtyards of the specialized and middle schools turn into enclosed, protective courtyards for the primary school and library, or conversely, open into vast grounds used for physical activities.

The project intentionally breaks with conventional school design – which divides the campus into buildings and functional zones – in favor of a sectional organization of spaces that maximizes access to green space and daylight for each classroom independent of its location. This strategy imposes a perpetual tweaking of the vertical arrangement of spaces, which generates endless sectional variations and creates a highly diverse compendium of spatial conditions for play, recreation, and interaction.

The sectional variation spurs a series of spatial configurations that calls for an intelligent response to different environmental conditions. Given Shenzhen’s hot and humid climate, the design introduces a weather protection system formed by hangovers, shading boxes, and corrugated aluminum panels, based on a rigorous year-round solar radiance study.