Project: Dalton Academy Interior

Beijing, China
Dalton Academy (Peking University Affiliated Middle School International Department)
Building Area:
2560 m2
Completion Date:
Aug. 2019
Partners in Charge:
Binke Lenhardt, DONG Hao
Design Team:
YU Zhaoxiong, Alan Chou, Andra Ciocoiu, Silvia Campi, HAO Hongyi
YANG Chaoying, HAO Hongyi, DONG Hao

Dalton Academy (Peking University Affiliated Middle School International Department) was established in 2010. The school is located on the fifth and sixth floors of the west side of the Affiliated Middle School of Peking University Building.
Ultimate focus of the school is to implement Dalton's educational program, an independent and evolving model that emphasizes bilingual Chinese and English liberal arts, inter-disciplinary education, and independent student initiatives and research. Originally called "Children's University", the pupils can choose courses and subjects they are interested in, from a program rooted in humanities but coupled with a math and science curriculum, including also laboratory-based learning.

Overcoming the dissonances between existing space and Dalton educational model
The existing layout didn't deliver the requirements of the educational model and the need for a more appropriate educational space arose.
A long-stretched corridor at the core of the school, with classrooms and teaching labs lined up on each side, where teaching happened behind walls and closed doors was not in line with the teaching philosophy of "Making learning visible" and thus needed reconsideration. The existing space was unable to offer connections and integrations among different teaching activities for a curriculum built around small seminar-style classes of approximately 15 students, which also required space to encourage discussion.

Crossboundaries, already familiar with the Dalton model through its work on the Peking University's Affiliated High School, and the renovation of Chaoyang Future School, provided a complete solution for the Dalton Academy facilities, the teaching spaces and a school master plan which are all integral part of the Dalton educational philosophy.

Sharing Space: Spatial Design and Strategy inspired by the Dalton Model
Inspired by the "Children's University" and the Dalton education system, Crossboundaries focused on the goal of helping children to become adults who can think and act independently. The architects consequently created a "shared co-working" space for the students.
Apart from stimulating the students to share, interact and co-operate, it is a preparation for the professional world. The ability to learn how to cooperate during college life is essential, as society is a collective based on cooperation, later in work life, we cannot always choose who we co-operate with, hence need to learn how to co-operate with respect.
Crossboundaries created with Dalton Academy an inspiring school space that provides students this opportunity for development and growth, encouraging a shared co-operation experience in their high school period.

The transformations on the 5th and 6th floor focused around four main areas - Innovation Studio, Science Labs, Art Studio and Cafe

I. The Innovation Studio - a green Rubik's Cube.
Part of the inspirations for Crossboundaries' design concept was the Rubik's Cube, referenced in the executions through repeated square shapes and the large number of possible spatial combinations, used in a creative way by the students, encouraging them to explore and to learn.
The new school space becomes a metaphor for providing a non-linear, inspiring and creative way to get to the finish line (i.e. to the resolved cube puzzle), mirroring the process children go through in the Dalton model from child to a responsible, independent adult and member of society.

The core renovation area with the classrooms saw the originally rather enclosed space transformed into a fully open shared space. Through re-organization and new division of the area, it was possible to allow for the various activities, such as independent learning, group discussions and presentations. Moreover, the space also provides room for social interaction of students from different classes and grades.

The new spatial design concept for the Innovation Studio by Crossboundaries shows the following clearly visible interventions to the original space:

1. The #new interior layout# of the Innovation Studio with a shared open space, encouraging students to collaborate and communicate, was created through opening up three of the original classrooms. It also welcomes other students, who do not belong to the International Department to use it.

2. The #learning studios and labs# were opened up, their solid outside walls facing the corridor broken down and replaced by movable glass partitions. This resulted not only in introducing additional, natural light sources, but at the same time connected connect the class rooms and the public shared spaces. The originally suspended ceiling was also removed and replaced by a 'naked' ceiling treatment to increase visually the space height, making the overall laboratory look more transparent and bright. Together with the redesigned lighting system, it allows students to benefit from a more focused and comfortable teaching experience.
Crossboundaries' design clearly implemented one of the Dalton Philosophy's core thoughts of "Making Teaching Visible" in providing spacious and bright labs, and a safe environment for students doing experiments

3. The #Furniture Layout# of the Innovation Studio is composed of fixed and moveable furniture pieces to cater to the various user needs. Green shelves do no only meet basic storage needs and provide reading areas, but also become dividers for different function zones. Integrated in the new shelf system are also niche seats, foldable tables and writing surfaces that can be used like White Boards.

Students can freely move or combine tables and chairs, gather around the niche chairs and built in tables, hence create their own, exclusive discussion areas for group projects or other activities. This design feature that has been extremely positive received by the students, as the architects learned on later visits of the finished space.

The center of the open area, with green, wipeable writing surfaces are the most active place for project discussions and presentations. Fabric curtains installed on the ceilings allows for further, flexible division of the space in order to create a setting for various activity as needed.

All features of Crossboundaries' new spatial design are based on functional needs and provide students with a most flexible space, supported by the use of specific materials, colors and furniture.

Color Coding and Selection
Lime Green was selected by the architects as the lead color to strengthen the main areas, supported and balanced out by Natural Gray.
As the Dalton Educational model is a dynamic one, the bright and saturated Lime Greens are meant to convey youth and freshness and to create lively, passionate working and learning environment for teachers and students alike. The complementary use of yellow and other natural colors set additional accents and make the space visually more harmonious.

Ceiling, Lighting & Curtains
Green Suspended ceiling elements in green mirror the floor patterns underneath them, to enhance the integrity of design in form and color. The choice of indoor lighting follows a linear design, which strengthens the design characteristics while providing basic lighting.
Curtains in soft materials not only give the option to re-organize the space but also have a soothing effect on people's psychology. Subdued color choices imitate the human touch of home environments and soften the potential for disagreements that might arise in discussions taking place in the space.

II. Art Studio
The renovation of the art studio was based on a complete analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the original space by the Crossboundaries Team. Actually, a high-quality space with skylights, but originally divided by partitions and rooms, the atelier for art courses appeared rigid and cramped, unable to meet the space requirements for art activities and teaching.
It was supposed to reflect a unique sense of design and artistry, to be a source of inspiration and a natural, tranquil environment for teachers and students participating in art courses.
A core part of the transformation was therefore to remove the barriers in the middle, to make use of the unique advantages of the skylight, re-introducing the sky and clouds, and to go back to a spacious and bright art space for teachers and students.
As different types of art courses might require different kinds of spaces, as a second focus during the art studio transformation was the addition of two mobile partitions.
Different from the original "one size fits all" division method, the mobile partitions can now be opened and closed freely, as per need. The art studio can be at any time flexibly divided into 1-3 independent small studios and meet a variety of creative requirements.

III. Cafe
A classroom facing the west staircase was transformed into a semi-open cafe. The white bar counter and the green ceiling are the continuation of the open space design of the entire floor. It is not only a canteen where teachers and students usually eat, but also a social place where one can discuss, talk about life, gossip and relax.

Inspiration & Essence of the Dalton Re-Design
For Crossboundaries the essence of design is the relationship among people in a space as well as between people and the space itself. The design of an educational space is even more so.

The various educational activities in the Dalton curriculum have been developed with the continuous innovation of educational concepts in mind - and the question "What kind of space design can meet these continuously optimized teaching concepts?".
The answer lies in returning to the setting where the actual teaching takes place, and to each individual participating in the teaching activities there.
With the re-design, a space was given to students, allowing them to independently plan, autonomously learn and interact with each other in it. Guiding students to better understand the connection between schoolwork, the outside world and society can consequently help foster self-exploration, that leads to continued success in school and later in life. All learning is for self-improvement, which is essential for students to prepare for society. This is what education really means.
Crossboundaries once again proved this in the completed Dalton College transformation and created with their design concept a ' bridge' that helps students to apply classroom knowledge to a real-world setting.