RMJM designs Public Academy campus for entrepreneurs in Suzhou, China

May 27, 2009 |

(PRINCETON, N.J.) ­– May 20, 2009 - RMJM today unveiled the design for a unique campus in Suzhou, China, which is designed to provide the most sophisticated facilities in the country for nurturing a future generation of entrepreneurs. The project is being designed through international architecture firm RMJM’s new Global Education Studio, which is headquartered in Princeton with an office in Cambridge, U.K.

As a result of its international expertise in education design - including projects for the world’s most renowned universities such as Princeton and Yale in the U.S. and Oxford and Cambridge in the UK – RMJM was appointed by the Suzhou Industrial Park Education Development Investment Co. Ltd to design a campus to house advanced teaching facilities as well as incubation units to help turn graduates into entrepreneurs.

Suzhou, which has the second -highest GDP per capita of China’s 659 cities, trailing only nearby Shanghai, has experienced the fastest economic growth in the country over the past decade. In addition to being one of China’s most popular tourist destinations, Suzhou is famed for its focus on education and has produced some of the country’s most renowned scholars and business people. The province of Jiangsu, in which Suzhou is located, has the largest number of higher education institutions in the country with 105 universities and colleges and an annual enrolment of approximately  1 million students.

RMJM was appointed to design Public Academy in the Du Shu Hu higher education district of Suzhou to build upon the city’s educational and economic reputation.

Public Academy is the international architecture firm’s first full higher education campus in China and, although it has specialized in education buildings for over 50 years, it is the first project to come out of RMJM’s Global Education Studio, launched last year and combining the educational design expertise of more than 100 dedicated architects across its worldwide network.

The client’s proposal called for an academy located in Suzhou’s higher education district, within the city’s successful industrial park that aims to be a leader in technology and research and design for high-tech industries. The design, which takes the best elements from world-class education models in the U.S. and UK, is contemporary, while also in keeping with the physical environment and social culture of Suzhou, which is celebrated for its meticulously designed walled gardens, canal-ordered townscape and traditional visual and literary arts.


The 1.29 million square-foot campus provides education facilities for undergraduates and graduates, a professional development center and spaces for incubation research units that are able to support small-scale prototyping and manufacturing on site.


Gordon Hood, RMJM Principal and director of the Global Education Studio in Princeton, New Jersey, explained that the design “reflects the journey from naivety through discovery to creativity” as the functions are ordered in a narrative sequence, beginning in the south east and moving towards the west with interwoven spaces for education, innovation and commercialization.

He added, “There will also be a pedestrian arcade connecting industry back to education, which symbolizes the route that it is hoped many entrepreneurs will take as they return to support and teach students at the establishment at which they started their path to success.”

Fiona Nixon, who is leading the delivery of the project from RMJM’s Singapore and Hong Kong offices said, “The RMJM team found inspiration from the city’s fine balance of landscape and architecture, including classical gardens, picturesque waterways, vernacular materials and scholar’s objects. For example, the tools of writing such as ink stone, ‘chop’ and red calligraphy ink inspire the form of the auditorium, a central space for the dissemination of knowledge.”

Nixon continued, “By providing close integration between learning and practice, in a beautiful setting, the Public Academy will enhance Suzhou’s economic and educational reputation.”

Students, researchers and visitors to the campus will arrive on foot at the “dawn lawn,” an informal garden for relaxing and meeting friends. Formal entry and access to a library, auditorium and exhibition spaces is via a more urbane square in the heart of the campus.

The courtyard style arrangement of the buildings reflects the traditional architecture and walled gardens of the neighboring city. The traditional grey brickwork of Suzhou inspires the stacking and interlocking of spaces, with the “joints” providing social places for collaboration. The blocks and courtyard spaces increase in scale from south to north, paralleling the expansion of the minds of students as they progress through the Academy. Finally, a teahouse in the northern courtyard provides respite from the work-day.

The campus, which is expected to be completed in 2012, will also offer sports and recreation facilities for the wider community, including links into a circuit of public gardens.


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