Courtyard as Agent

Department: Architecture
Lead Architect: Wang Weijen (Wang Weijen Architecture)

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Courtyard as Agent

The new campus architecture for the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) in Shenzhen connects the architectural typology of courtyard with landscape terrain and mountain form. By adopting typological methods in using courtyard as agent for design at both planning and architectural levels, the project investigates how courtyard, as a traditional type with cultural significance, can be reinvented as three-dimensional spatial forms for multi-leveled buildings, addressing critical challenges of contemporary architecture over scale, landscape, community and sustainability. The project also demonstrates the continuing effort by Wang Weijen Architecture of Urban Courtyardism in exploring transformations of courtyard typology in high-density urban-rural contexts.

Landscape Courtyard

By allowing nature to flow into the green mall of the campus, the planning arranged a series of pavilion-like buildings along the foothill across the central green: library, student center, administrative offices, and dormitories. Inspired by Jefferson’s campus prototype, the project transforms the diagram into a new planning form of central green with ecological significance, moderating two asymmetrical and paralleled architectures along two sides of the green mall. A linear mega-form of teaching blocks with sequence of zigzagged courtyards is placed in alignment with campus edge away from the hill, allowing pavilion-buildings on the opposite side of campus green array along the landscape. The arrangement also provides visual and ecological porosity in-between architectures for enabling the campus green to re-connect with the nature of hill and water. The notion of courtyard is adopted not only as an architectural type, but also is developed as an agent for connecting courtyards into a larger planning system for accommodating landscape and nature.

Courtyard Architecture

The Square Courtyard Quadrant with sunken plaza at the center of campus green connects the two paralleled architecture sequences: the library and the student center to the linear academic block, moderating the campus contour by coordinating with different datum levels. By integrating materials of grey brick, timber louver and metal panel, the library and the student center connected by the Square Courtyard Quadrant stands out as the focus building of the new campus.

The Student center as a three-dimensional courtyard architecture is developed into a series of intersected atrium spaces along a sequence of ascending patio, bringing students from campus mall at the lower level to the semi-open courtyards facing the landscape of the hill. The library articulates a six-story volume into two C-shaped interlocking overlapped massing, rotating the angular curving form lifted from the ground, so that the massing below is open to the campus green. A light-well courtyard situated above gently brings in natural light to the multi-leveled atrium that is surrounded by walls of bookshelf.

With rigor and originality, the project is making significant impact to the design communities by receiving increasing publicity and design awards. This recently completed project demonstrates methods of typological design through courtyard as both type and agent, developing innovative models for campus architecture in shaping a sustainable environment integrates nature and landscape with architecture.

The Library: Double framed overlapping courtyards

As the key anchor among pavilion buildings arrayed along the foothill, the library maintains a visual corridor that connects the campus to the hill, providing porosity for nature to penetrate. The design articulates a six-story volume into two C-shaped massing, rotating the zigzagged form lifted from the ground facing the landscape, unfolding the massing below to the campus green. With the double zigzag-curved form lifted from the ground assimilating the phoenix image of Chinese roof, the library experiences of interior and exterior, books and nature are  interweaved, crossing over and integrated.

With moderated skylight coming from above, a cathedral-like multi-leveled atrium flanked by tall walls of bookshelves, becomes the spatial core of the library. Different library wings are extended from within the central atrium, orchestrating functional spaces for each space. The design arranges multi-leveled reading rooms with window views of exterior green at the end of each linear form, thus bringing lifestyle and nature in harmony. The architecture frames the views by following traces of landforms and efficiently arranges modules of bookshelves and reading rooms while facilitating interactions between inside and outside spaces, generating dialogues between paralleled spaces leading to double-framed mountain views.

The library also demonstrates sustainability strategies by launching a series of passive energy saving measures and smart site plannings. Not only does it provide sufficient natural lighting for the entire space in the library, the architecture also carefully curates sunlight with shading devices to reduce summer heat gain – such as integrating natural lighting through north-facing viewing windows and skylights, screening direct sunlight through perforated metal panel and façade-shading louvers.

Student Center: Vertical sequence of stepped courtyards

The student center of CUHK at Shenzhen Campus transforms the integrated vertical light-well and horizontal hallway of vernacular architecture for South China into a contemporary typology. A series of intersected atrium spaces are adopted for shaping a set of ascending patios, bringing students from campus mall at the lower level to the semi-open courtyards facing the landscape of the hill at higher levels. Besides, a sequence of guided stairs and semi-open or covered podiums are built, so that users are able to enjoy layers of views through the building while walking up the stairs, which eventually leads them toward the patios at the top level with abundant natural greens.

The building faces the central plaza and integrates with the natural line of the hill slope, connecting the library at the north and the teaching blocks at the east. Students can enter the building from platforms and sky bridges at different levels, which lead to canteens, multi-function rooms or student clubs for daily activities. The semi-open courtyards, hallways and patios situated at different levels not only provide communal spaces with mountain views, but also become interconnected spaces that moderate micro-climate of cross ventilation and natural lighting for the building.

Student Dormitory: Sky-patio courtyards

By arranging patios and courtyards at various strategic levels, the dormitory for undergraduate student at CUHK Shenzhen Campus explores new typologies by dividing slab-based lift-lobby corridor into a multi-storey dormitory and provides communal facilities to integrate indoor and outdoor daily activities at different levels.

Layouts of unit-modular alongside the corridor are offset at every other floor to create sky patios of two-story in height and link to their lounges. Seated on the slope, the elevated canteen podium provides covered open spaces on the ground and gardens on the rooftop. The three tower slabs form L-shape courtyards that either face the campus green or look back at the natural hill. As an overview of the building, including its lobbies, canteen, reading rooms, lounges and laundry – they are all well-connected to a variety of outdoor spaces: courtyards, patios, sky bridges, platforms, and roof gardens, blending nature harmoniously with architecture and the communal life.

Enlarge Photo: Courtyard as Agent 1