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Beijing Qianshajian Kindergarten

A star-shaped kindergarten in Beijing

The interior space is easily structured from its core while the dynamic geometry gives children an environment to learn via discovery.

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.


Project: Beijing Qianshajian Kindergarten
Client: Education Bureau of Haidian District, Beijing
Program: Education – Interior
Location: Education
Plot area: 4200 m2
Architectural area: 4800 m2
Design Period: 2019-2020
Construction Completion: 2022


Partners in Charge: Binke Lenhardt, DONG Hao
Design team: Cynthia Cui, Marijana Simic, GAN Li, Silvia Campi, Sean Yu, GU Chang, HUANG Biao, HAO Hongyi, WANG Xudong
Photography: YANG Chaoying, Ivan Chen, Aki Jian
Video creation: Elena Gamez Miguelez

A spark in the neighborhood! The need for an iconic architectural node


Crossboundaries’ response to the city’s conditions was to create an antidote to the repetitive and mundane surroundings and to offer a spatial variety in the neighborhood, for both children attending the kindergarten as well as for the parents, other residents, and passers-by. Strict codes and other regulations for public educational facilities especially in regard to sunlight intake make this a complex task; combined with a very limited budget, constitutes a strict formula that results in a very small set of possible typologies.


Crossboundaries opted for a solution that framed the site with a bold and dynamic appearance to contrast with the anodyne surroundings. The design offered the specific qualities that correspond to the needs of the preschool children, providing a positive impact on the neighborhood’s spatial outlook.


“We envisioned an undulating landscape that could create fresh ties between the generic city and the new kindergarten design, whose urbanity goal was to become a permeable space for learning and sociability” – Hao Dong, co-founder and partner of Crossboundaries concludes.


This array of prisms organizes the spaces, establishing iconic relationships with the changing images of its perimeter. It engages with the street corner and radiates in all directions, breaking the strict south orientation of the residential buildings, and generating a layout of classrooms that has the quality of a tree house, looking out in many directions and receiving plentiful daylight.


This is how the form, reminiscing the asterisk shape, was born: a spatial gem that not only complied with the requirements but excelled in its biggest priority – the sunlight. Each arm is intentionally spread apart and interconnected with shifting views, maximizing the connections with its surrounding nature.


The façade was envisioned as a color gradient, changing from dark yellow at the bottom, gradually to white at the top, executed through paint applied in horizontal strips, all creating a strong contrast to the residential surroundings.


An educational space that puts playing in the center


Each function was given a separate wing, with a dynamic outline that bulges in and out. This design allows for the efficient subdivision of an otherwise rather big program while creating a scale that appears natural, safe, and inspiring.


Seamlessly cut from the street boundary, the gate to the kindergarten is accompanied by a rather unpronounced partly yellow guard house. The design of the entrance was envisioned as, unlike the typical ceremonial and symmetrical school gates, a special, child-oriented passage that brings users into the joyful landscape of the kindergarten. Following through, as one approaches the equally friendly, unobtrusive building entrance, the small gardens in the inner corners of the star’s prongs create a unique activity space, where the children get to seed and take care of vegetables and other plants.

Each floor features classrooms with generous windows, looking out in three directions. The prongs orientated towards the north serve as auxiliary spaces or multi-functional rooms. Completing the layout of the main education spaces, instead of the traditional long hallways, the classrooms are connected by a single circulation hub in the form of a central atrium.


This centralized nature of the interior space works well with the needs of children of young age, providing them with an easy sense of orientation and security. There is an unmistakable center where teaching, learning, playing, and social activities converge in an inspiring atmosphere lit up from the skylight above. The whole formative experience is complemented by an intuitive environment where exploration is encouraged, creating a journey-like experience where each age group is represented and mixed interaction is embodied by gathering in this social core.


The essence of children-centered design

Utilizing the “star shape” allowed for an expression of the intrinsic qualities of a built space, where simply the layout itself promotes an intuitive path of circulation, subsequently forming natural opportunities for interaction.


As Binke Lenhardt, co-founder and partner of Crossboundaries puts it: “On the one hand, the unique exterior appearance could be a metaphor for education: generating a positive expectation to discover the unknown. On the other hand, the interior space is easily structured from its core while the dynamic geometry gives children an environment to learn via discovery.”


The notion of each classroom representing a world on its own, open on three sides and “plugged into” the central atrium on the fourth side, diagrammatically corresponds to the contemporary spatial setup recommendations for kindergarten architecture: a good measure of stimulation and safety. In this space, there is the overall universe, the heart of the building where everyone traverses, interacts, lounges, and circulates, and then there is a smaller world, the classroom, which, in this design, is always unique, differently oriented and immersed in its surroundings with generous windows.


Despite the various limitations and challenges during execution, Crossboundaries’ Star kindergarten stands out in its surrounding like an architectural spark and testifies about the role that space can have in a more contemporary approach to early education that even public kindergartens in China are starting to adopt.