The SanHe Elementary School, designed by OBRA Architects of New York, is located to the east of Beijing near the international airport. The school will have the capacity to educate 2,200 students with its approximately 37,000m2 of built surface area. Its surrounding suburban area has a flat topography and rather rural characteristics with an incipient presence of light industrial activity. The school will be part of a new 2,000,000m2 development to include residential, commercial and cultural zones. Except for the school, the entire project is to be designed by local Beijing architects.
The larger project of Sanhe City contemplates the creation of a residential zone of high density that, in accordance with local codes, requires that each residence receive at least two hours of direct sunlight in the most unfavorable day of the year. The presence of abundant natural light in the apartments is undoubtedly a desirable situation, but what the code does not prescribe is the effective definition of public urban space, of the street and the square. The unyielding density and sunlight requirements which lack a balanced configuration of urban space, dissolve into an undefined no-man’s-land in a terrain where big towers stand, all facing south in unrelenting martial formation.
The school is the only portion of the larger project that is planned neither to be sold nor rented and is also somewhat exempt from the requirements of density and sunlight exposure regulating the housing areas. It offers, therefore, a singular opportunity in the whole of 2,000,000m2 of construction for the creation of a shared urban space that could become recognizable and memorable for residents and visitors.