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The Design of STL’s New Building: An Insider’s View

An Interview with the Design Team from KPF, Architects of STL’s New Building

(Interview by STL Students Hu Yue/胡月 (2L) and Du Yayun/杜雅云 (1L))

The new building of Peking University School of Transnational Law (STL) is prominently located on the Peking University Shenzhen Graduate Campus (PKUSZ). The building is situated between the beautifully restored Dashahe River Parkway, on one side, and the PKUSZ campus central plaza, on the other.

The building is designed by world-famous architecture firm, Kohn Pederson Fox (KPF), whose masterpieces include IBM’s international headquarters, Shanghai World Financial Center, the headquarters of Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, and the towering Ping An International Finance Building in Shenzhen.

Fortunately, we earned an exclusive opportunity to interview the principal architects of STL’s new building: Jill Lerner, Elie Gamburg, Alex Kong and Wang Tianmeng. The main contents of our interview follow.

Q1: Why did you choose the task of designing the new building for Peking University School of Transnational Law?

A: I have known Jeffrey Lehman since he was the President of Cornell. I visited Dean Lehman when he became the Dean of STL. Meanwhile, there was a proposal of a new building for this innovative law school. KPF has an office in Hong Kong and had been taking projects in Shenzhen. We have done a lot of designs of academic buildings, including law schools. So, it was a terrific opportunity to partner with STL.

Q2: What were the preparations that you undertook during the process of designing the STL Building?

A: For an academic building, we had a lot discussions with the then Dean, faculty members, and students. We also spent a lot of time visiting other schools at Peking University in Shenzhen, as well as the campus in Beijing. We also researched other major Chinese universities, such as Tsinghua, Tongji and Fudan.

Comparing to our experience in doing educational buildings in Europe and the U.S., we tried to understand how education happens here in China. We tried to identify things that are critical for 21st century education and that may have been overlooked in earlier academic buildings.

Q3: How did you harmonize the design in order to meet the needs of the various users of the new building – e.g., students, professors, administrators, etc.?

A: We wanted some visual connections between the faculty areas and student areas, and the places where everyone would be comfortable working together. We designed an atrium to help bring the entire law school community together. It’s a place where students and faculty can meet formally or informally with one another, and students can comfortably study. We understand that students have different styles of studying. The design of the atrium, in a way, addressed a few of the different ways in which people study: (i) the open seating arrangements along the stairs cater to students who like to study in public spaces; (ii) the terraces with small tables cater to students who like to study in small groups; and (iii) the small nooks under the stairs cater to students who prefer studying in private. We tried to accommodate a variety of study preferences in one central space.

We designed classrooms in various configurations. For example, some classrooms are tiered horse-shoe shaped while others are more traditional flat floor spaces. Such variety addresses the reality that you have different professors with different teaching styles.

Q4: Was there any consideration with regard to sustainability and environmental protection?

A: We spent a long time trying to get the glass right. Because the atrium faces south we had to ensure that the atrium would not get too hot in the summer. This meant carefully choosing the right type of protective glass from the standpoint of heat protection and glare reduction. We used a special Low-E glass to make the space more comfortable and sustainable.

We wanted the atrium to face south so occupants had views of the mountains and river. There are few windows in the east and west of the building because, in Shenzhen, the sunlight is very strong in these directions.

There are many operable windows in the building to allow for fresh air and to reduce reliance on mechanical air conditioning systems. It’s nice when you walk out of a classroom and have fresh air, lots of sunlight and a beautiful view in the atrium. The idea of the atrium also encourages people to walk instead of taking the elevator, which promotes exercise and wellness.

Q5: What was the most challenging aspect of the project from the beginning to the completion of the building?

A: The most challenging part was the construction. We used different construction materials for different functions. We had locally sourced materials, materials from Hong Kong, and materials from overseas. During the construction, our architects regularly visited the construction site from our KPF office in Hong Kong in order to make sure every step went well. I want to thank STL Assistant Dean Chen Keru for her support and help. Without her, the construction process would not have progressed as smoothly.

Q6: What was the most satisfactory thing about the project and do you have any regret about the new building (if any)?

There was a famous architect who said that he had a very hard time going into a building he designed and completed because what he saw was only all possibilities that didn’t happen. Though I had a lot of respect for him, I actually never felt that way about this building. We do have possibilities, but the important thing is that we designed this building for you (the STL community) and it is you who will give life to this building.

Q7: What do you think of STL and Shenzhen?

A: This is a good question and our team members had a lot discussion about this. Shenzhen is an innovative, energetic, young and international city. So is STL. You are studying in a highly globalized, innovative and young law school.

Q8: Do you have any words to say at the end of the interview?

A: It has been exciting for KPF to be a part of this new venture with STL.

Concluding thoughts from the interviewers:

We were surprised by the architects’ understanding of the Socratic teaching style of STL, their sophisticated consideration of the variety of needs of STL students and faculty, and their commitment to environmental protection and sustainability.

We have a strong belief that STL will continue to get better and better and our new STL Building designed by KPF provides the perfect nest for all STLers.

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