Chicago firm reveals design for university in China

The new Liberal Arts campus contains 22 buildings and a total building area of 153,182.5 m2 (1.65 million sf), including key public buildings, namely a library, student community center, the Wuhan-Duke Research Institute, administration building, and recreation center. Photo courtesy Perkins&Will

Chicago firm Perkins&Will and Shanghai Studio have revealed designs for the second phase of Duke Kunshan University as an elegant blend of nature and architecture reflecting the natural context and local culture of Kunshan, China.

The new Liberal Arts campus contains 22 buildings and a total building area of 153,183 m2 (1.65 million sf), including key public buildings, namely a library, student community center, the Wuhan-Duke Research Institute, administration building, and recreation center.

The architecture of the project reimagines the volumes and colors of the Jiangnan village vernacular to create a ‘solid sculpture’ through the modeling and interplay of volumes. Façades are clad in stone, metal, and glass to allow variation in texture and color.

At the focal point of the masterplan is the community centre. This key building is situated prominently on the central axis of the main entrance. The center is easily accessible by foot within a three-minute walk from all main academic spaces. The building brings diverse programs such as dining, events and performance spaces, a careers advice center, and a clinic under one roof.

The library’s simple, monolithic exterior frames the vibrant and diverse programs within. The library collection and reading areas, exhibition spaces, classrooms, meeting rooms, and a Chinese tearoom are arranged around a tall central atrium. This naturally lit four-level space serves as both the main circulation spine and an open gallery.

To create a sense of neighborhood, the undergraduate residence halls have been designed as a series of low-rise courtyards. These buildings are arranged as open courts to connect the residential quarters to the various functions of the campus.

The post-graduate hall, which sits to one side of the undergraduate program is designed around a central atrium stair. This block, for mature students, offers more privacy and individual spaces for independent research and study, overlooking the green quadrangles to north and south.

Duke Kunshan University is committed to actively reducing carbon emissions and promoting carbon neutrality; therefore, the new campus reserves almost a third of its land area as greenery and outdoor spaces. Of this area, 90 percent of the green spaces utilize rainwater irrigation to reduce water use on site.

Perkins&Will led urban planning, architecture, interiors, and wayfinding for the campus, which is set to open to students in August 2022.

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