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Zaha Hadid Architects plans robot-built Chinese primary school

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Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA) has unveiled plans for a 120-pupil school in Jiangxi province, China, featuring a network of ‘barrel and parabolic vaults’ part-built by robots

The Lushan Primary School will serve 12 villages and will be built on a small peninsula surrounded by water on three sides in a mountainous region160km north-west of Nanchang.

The school will house both foundation-stage children (3 to 6 years) and primary-stage pupils (6 to 12 years) with 14 pupils in each of the nine classrooms.

The scheme will be constructed with in-situ concrete poured around hot-wire cut foam formwork which, the practice claims, ‘can be prepared on site by an industrial robot to create the barrel and parabolic-shaped moulds’.

The school was set up by Jinggan Yu, the president of the College of the Arts in Jiangxi and an architect, designer and painter. Born in Jiangxi, Yu also established China’s first specialist interior design company, which now has more than 2,000 branches in over 500 cities across the country.

In 2011 Zaha Hadid Architects’ Evelyn Grace School won the RIBA Stirling Prize.


The architect’s view

Surrounded by mountains as well as the rivers and lakes fed by the Zhelin Reservoir, the school is within an agricultural region which also has a rich tradition in the production of ceramics.

The school’s curriculum is a synthesis of Chinese and international academic systems; combining an education in the creative arts with a comprehensive syllabus of STEM subjects that also includes advanced internet-based learning technologies. Visiting teachers and artists will make the school a focus for the community it serves.

The campus includes the school, dormitory and utility buildings within vaulted spaces which connect directly with their rural surroundings. The classrooms have flexible learning arrangements and outdoor teaching areas.

The vaults are composed as a network of barrel and parabolic vaults that open towards the river, stretching and intersecting to accommodate the school’s varied programme. A long central courtyard acts as the school’s main circulation space and play area.


The vaulted classrooms are orientated for the best natural light conditions, as well as to frame views of the surrounding landscape. Cantilevers protect the classrooms from the solar gain of Jiangxi’s sub-tropical climate and extend the teaching spaces into the landscape to provide a varied and interactive learning environment.

The barrel and parabolic vaults act as the school’s primary structure and enclosure, with each vault performing as an individual structural element.

To minimise construction time and also reduce the number of separate building elements required to be transported to the school’s remote location, ZHA proposes combining the local skills of in-situ concrete construction with new advancements in hot-wire cut foam formwork that can be prepared on site by an industrial robot to create the barrel and parabolic shaped moulds.

The modularity of the vaults enables moulds to be used multiple times, further accelerating the construction process and reducing costs.

The region’s long history of producing the highest quality ceramics dates from the Ming Dynasty. These traditions are continued in the school’s ceramic external finishes, laid in a gradient of tones that express the differing programmes within.

The school is located on a small peninsula surrounded on three sides by water and bordering farmland to the north, built on an elevated escarpment 5m above the 50-year flood level. Its surrounding landscape incorporates outdoor teaching spaces and sports facilities, and also serves as a natural water catchment area to further protect the school from flooding.

This surrounding landscape rises towards the school, creating natural areas within its raised courtyards.

08 zha lushan entrance courtesy of zha

Zaha Hadid Architects’ proposed Lushan Primary School - entrance 


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