French International School
The French International School in the Tseung Kwan O district of Hong Kong is located in one of the most densely populated cities in the world, which one can sense from the surrounding ‘concrete jungle’ context.
Af Ariana Zilliacus
Henning Larsen is an architecture practice that prides itself on values of sustainability and long-term improvements of their users’ quality of life; as the Danish company firmly states on their website, ‘Our ambition is to work in places where we can make the greatest difference for people and communities.’ Providing children with open spaces to play and learn surrounded by greenery and color is a powerful design choice that will hopefully make an impact on them that will remain for the duration of their lives.
Light experiences can move us deeply in mere seconds. Such fleeting moments often stay in our memories forever.
— Henning Larsen Architects
Colour has long been acknowledged as an important contributor towards mental and emotional well-being, especially when paired with daylight. Both elements are undeniably prominent in Henning Larsen’s design approach for the French International School in Hong Kong, which can only be expected from the architecture firm named after the Danish “Master of Light”. They describe how their founder, Henning Larsen, was ‘enchanted by the light fill[ing] a village church’ as a young boy, carrying the impact of this experience with him throughout his architectural practice. By introducing spaces such as the school’s sports hall located behind the building’s characteristic multi-colored façade, which reflects multi-colored light into the large cavity reminiscent of stained-glass windows often found in churches, Henning Larsen presents the young students with daily experiences of enchantment beyond their traditional spaces for learning.
When it comes to the French International School’s ‘traditional’ learning spaces, however, the architecture firm’s desire for a socially inclusive and collaborative environment is clearly expressed through their flexible and open plan. The Primary School is divided into ‘Villas’ of 125 students, made up of a series of classroom spaces that can open to merge with the central shared space, named the ‘Agora’. Once again, Henning Larsen are dealing with a design approach that the architects have a deeper personal experience with, coming from an office space that is in itself aiming to be non-hierarchical in order to activate creativity and curiosity. Their use of materials and sunlight also make a strong case for their dedication to all three pillars of sustainability (social, environmental and financial); using natural rubber for their flooring, bamboo ceilings sourced from renewable forests, non-toxic paints, and fabrics made of pure wool, as well as providing sufficient and even daylight in classrooms without causing overheating in the warm climate.
The school’s ‘green’ identity doesn’t stop there; the site has a 20% green ratio, incorporating over 40 trees, hanging gardens and a 550m2 botanical garden filled with plants native to Southern China. ‘Green’ and ‘blue’ architecture – building design that incorporates vegetation, ecosystems, rivers, ponds and so forth – has been shown to improve people’s health and quality of life, on a physical and psychological basis. Our increasing research and knowledge in this area are most certainly being reflected in contemporary architecture, with no shortage of architectural renderings visualizing concrete tower blocks overflowing with lush plants and trees. The French International School materializes these renderings in reality, with newly planted saplings surrounding the outdoor play-areas – a necessary contrast to the repetitive glass towers that would otherwise dominate the children’s visual environment.
Henning Larsen’s aim to provide ‘lifelong added value to the users and local context’ seems to be intrinsic to their approach to the French International School in Hong Kong. The Danish architecture firm understands the importance such a space can have on their young users, both in their immediate everyday lives as in their future approaches to education and play. These spaces will set the scene for many cherished memories – sharing lunch in the red niche of a massive pillar; racing on a multi-colored track; winning a basketball game in a rainbow-lit sports-hall – that will last forever.