From shoe factory to international school – a textbook transformation!

One of England’s most traditional schools, St Bees, has opened its first school in China in a former shoe factory – thanks to brilliant transformation by Hong Kong-based studio, Orient Occident Atelier. OOA preserved much of the factory’s structure, adding a red brick façade as an unmistakable nod to the classic red sandstone buildings that house the UK school, founded by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1853.

Located in Dongguan, one of the biggest cities in southern China, the international school has a main campus building for secondary school students and a dormitory, as the shoe factory once had for its workers. OOA’s designers revitalised the existing factory structure into a modern learning environment, adding a new red brick brise soleil to the exterior of the old concrete façade to deflect sunlight and boost solar heat gains.

The main entrance opens onto a high ceiling reception area, with a welcoming cylindrical library at the centre, connected to the school assembly hall and a marketing room. The OOA team aimed to instil western culture into a Chinese context, to provide a globalised environment. For example, iconic British arches are a feature of the third-floor learning resource centre (LRC), to challenge the existing structure with a western architectural motif.

The campus uses a combination of modern technology, such as electric whiteboards, with wooden furniture. Sound absorbing panels are installed throughout the ceiling of the assembly hall and study rooms to get the optimal acoustics. There is also transparency between facilities such as the art room and the LRC, so that students and teachers can easily connect with each other.

Formal and Informal learning spaces are scattered throughout the campus, catering for students’ different needs. A common room can be used for informal group discussions, while tables in the LRC area are arranged to provide a quieter atmosphere for study. St Bees Dongguan gets full marks for bringing old world traditions to life in China.