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The architects behind ISB’s new facilities

By Jessica Thompson, Newswire

To create a world-class building, one must use world-class architects.

That is the sentiment the International School of Beijing (ISB) has followed with the development of its new buildings. Families considering enrolling their children at ISB will get a tantalizing look at the project when the school’s Admissions Open House season begins soon. For everyone else, this latest time-lapse video from the construction site makes clear how the building work is progressing.

The facilities, set to open in 2019 and 2020, include a new Elementary School (ES) Arts Center and Theater, a new Performing Arts Center for the Middle School (MS) and High School (HS), a remodeled Early Years Learning Center, and a remodeled MS/HS Design Center.

The design of the new spaces is based on the educational needs of each learner. According to Gerrick Monroe, ISB’s chief financial officer (CFO), the school was able to come up with the spaces, equipment, and furnishings required for both students and teachers to excel because it included teachers and curriculum leaders in the development of the new facilities.

But to understand how these innovative buildings are coming to fruition, one must understand the story of the actual architects behind the design.


Builders are hard at work on ISB’s new facilities

Experts in architectural design

Xiaoyi Ma is the chief designer for the ISB project and the founding partner of Inclusive Architectural Practice, a Beijing-based architectural design firm.

“My job at ISB is establishing design principles for the new buildings,” said Ma. “School projects, especially expansions to well-established educational facilities, are different from other building types. They require a designer’s tremendous flexibility and attention to detail in order to customize the design to meet and exceed teaching requirements with persistent forward thinking.”

Ma has spearheaded numerous research pieces on education, hospitality, corporate projects, retail projects, and mixed-use facilities. She has worked in locations including China, the U.S., Europe, and the Middle East.

In recent years, Ma has shifted to focus largely on school design. She has worked on modern projects for international, private, and public schools.

Ma said she knew long before she went to college that she wanted to study architectural design, “a creative major that doesn’t feel like studying. And over years of practice, I wouldn’t trade it with any other job, as design truly makes my life and other people’s lives better.”

Making other people’s lives better through design is something with which Andrew Jin, associate director in CBRE Beijing’s Project Management Team and project management consultant for ISB’s new facilities, strongly agrees.

With more than 12 years of experience covering various types of construction projects, from shopping malls, office buildings, entertainment projects to villas, Jin brings prowess to the project management work he’s doing at ISB.

And what got him started in this role were two simple words – “inspiration and responsibility,” according to Jin.


The exciting facilities will soon be ready for students

Design and the role it plays in education

Ma knows that educational facilities play a pivotal role in a student’s education.

“The learner-centered educational approach has been used for over 100 years, yet never has it been as rapidly and world-widely implemented as in the past decade,” she said. “Neither has the school environment been designed to be responsive to education.”

She used the example of the new ES Arts Center to back up her point, as it incorporates art rooms, music rooms, informal exhibition and performing spaces, as well as a theater custom designed for young children.

“Elementary students will take it as a home base for visual arts, performing arts and all other artistic activities that may come up, transforming the mode of ‘class-attending’ into a community lifestyle,” Ma said.

There is consensus in the architectural field about how much environments, natural or created, impact an individual’s behavior and emotions.

“Children are often more sensitive to colors, shapes, spaces, air, and light than adults,” said Ma. “A good school building should inspire a sense of calm in children and help them become joyful and focused, just like a home does.

“But in addition to a sense of home, an ideal school building is a center for community connections, a library of resources, a center of innovation, a gallery of art, a gym for sports and fun.”

And to Ma, the importance of creating a learner-centered environment and moving away from a traditional classroom is pivotal for the future success of students.

“A traditional cell-and-bell school layout cannot foster communication and collaboration, whereas an open floor plan with minimum solid partitions will assist interactive and interdisciplinary learning as a community.”

This sentiment was echoed by Jin, who agrees that collaboration and communication should be easy to facilitate in educational facilities. He also said he sees flexibility and open spaces as being pillars to an innovative, 21st-century school.


The importance of purpose-built educational facilities

“Among different K-12 projects, my favorite type is purpose-built facilities because I enjoy the collaboration between educators and designers,” said Ma. “Often, educators are designers who think outside the box; in their mind, walls are not just walls and floors are not just floors, all are teaching tools.”

Ma recalled the time when the ES teachers came to her and her team and told them young children easily sink in adult-size folding chairs commonly used in theaters and therefore often stand.

“Through the conversation, we came up with the design,” she said. “Equipped with retractable audience seating and elevated/retractable staging system, the theater can be easily arranged as a proscenium theater, a vineyard black box, or a completely open hall, supporting formal performances, informal performing activities, and community gatherings or even athletic events.

“Club benches with low risers and a low stage were selected so that young children can be seated comfortably.”

Jin and Ma are eager to see the doors of the ISB project open. “The new buildings will be a better place for the students to live, learn, and play,” Jin said.


Join ISB’s Admissions Open Houses

On November 27, families considering enrolling their children at ISB will get to see up close what makes an education here so special. The campus will host parents and prospective Middle and High School students from far and wide as the school’s annual Admissions Open House season begins.

We are inviting families to come learn about ISB’s challenging curriculum and innovative teaching practices in Grades 6 to 12 in this first Open House. Meet Head of School Patrick Hurworth, learn about our High School and college guidance programs, and hear first-hand accounts from a student panel. A presentation from our Middle School Principal will follow. Families will also have the opportunity to tour.

Further Open Houses for the Elementary, Middle, and High School will take place in January and February. Click here for more information on how to join ISB.

ISB is an extraordinary school, made so by a tradition of educational excellence spanning 40 years. Establishing, nurturing, and growing such an exceptional learning community has been and remains intentional; we work hard to build strong relationships so our learning is at its best.

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