Whittle School and Studios. Credit: Zhangchao; Whittle School and Studios. Credit: Zhangchao;

Whittle School and Studios: Shenzhen campus, Shenzhen

Whittle School and Studios: Shenzhen campus

Opening its doors to 700 students in September 2019, Shenzhen is now home to Asia's first Whittle School & Studios campus. 

The Whittle Schools concept is a global network of 36 schools for 3-18 year olds, offering a truly modern and unique way of educating. So far schools have opened in Shenzhen, Washington DC, and a third school is planned to open later this year in New York.

Arup is the strategic engineering partner for all planned projects, led by the vision of Chris Whittle, the founder of Whittle School and Studios. Arup was approached by architects Renzo Piano Buildings Workshop (RPBW) to work on the initial concept in late 2015 and in September 2016, the new Shenzhen site was chosen. We led the full design team throughout the project, utilising our global expertise, with work carried out from London, Shanghai, Shenzhen and multiple other offices.

A collaborative, global design team

Arup’s London office led the efforts of our global design team. Collaborating across three core offices enabled us to be adaptable and utilise our local design expertise to enhance the final design. With staff based in close proximity to the site, any issues were solved seamlessly.

The strength and importance of Arup’s relationship with RPBW and their shared determination was recognised by the client, Chris Whittle who described it as “a symbiotic relationship”. The integrated design approach with close collaboration across the Arup team, the architect and client has created a new standard for educational buildings in China, with a strong focus on user experience and wellbeing, successfully turning Chris Whittle's ambitious vision into reality.

Project Summary

1 of 36 planned schools

12 month construction phase

Rethinking educational buildings

The school's revolutionary approach to education, combined with RPBW's uncompromising visionary design and our engineering solutions delivered a building with state of the art facilities and an inspiring aesthetic. The school is made up of two buildings, each with user experience and providing the best environment for education at the heart.

An environment for learning

Our engineering solutions looked to create a school with high levels of internal comfort. Both buildings are highly daylit with access to outdoor views, as in all classrooms pupils are within 9m of the façade. To increase the open and transparent feel to the structures, all classroom walls are glass, connecting pupils and encouraging a community of collaboration. One of the major structural interventions core to the connectivity is the feature staircase which through its lightweight suspended design offers visual connection and transparency across the central atrium.

Internal comfort is also provided though the use of active chilled beams, which deliver low velocity cool air, with local controls in each classroom. Automated solar control blinds have been fitted to prevent overheating and control glare. Air quality has been designed to deliver 30% above US standard fresh air rates with outside air being highly filtered. These combined elements make it possible to achieve an optimum and comfortable environment for pupils.


Flexible, healthy spaces

To deliver the best possible teaching environment, a high level of flexibility was integral. Classrooms are adaptable with all furniture designed to move to allow rooms to be set up to suit the desired learning experience. Another important component of the furniture was the choice of materials. All materials were selected to complement a “healthy mind", with wellness promoted through the use of wood, as the human mind is proven to be calmed by natural materials.

Our team were instrumental in formulating the global technology strategy for Whittle School and Studios, enabling all the campuses to be virtually connected. We also helped define a vision for the buildings to become a learning resource themselves to educate pupils in sustainable development. This resulted in the project achieving a 2 star rating on the China Green Star Sustainability Certification scheme.

In working across both Shenzen and the recently opened school in Washington, our best practice can be seamlessly passed from continent to continent. As the strategic engineering partner for Whittle Schools and Studios, worldwide, we look forward to supporting the journey of the 36 schools.

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