Embodying the history of a university in flexible, sustainable architecture

Yale Center,
Beijing

Yale’s very first facility in China embodies the history of the university in an architecture that is at once flexible, sustainable and thoroughly distinctive. The globe-spanning distance between Beijing and New Haven seems to vanish in the new Yale Center, Beijing.

Conceived as an adaptable fusion of workspace, events venue and learning centre, the facility is the American university’s first in China – and as M Moser Associates Designer and Project Leader Donn Tan relates, it was designed with a genuine “Yale experience” in mind. “Yale wanted their first facility in China to be unique in itself, but also to offer its users a ‘Yale experience’. That was the greatest challenge in the project – presenting the best of both worlds.”

Embodying the history of a university in flexible, sustainable architecture section
Embodying the history of a university in flexible, sustainable architecture section
Embodying the history of a university in flexible, sustainable architecture section

A streamlined, integrated approach

For Yale, the project’s major challenge was not just in selecting a site and designing, engineering and building their first-ever facility in China, but in participating in and managing the whole process from their campus and headquarters in New Haven. Partnering with M Moser Associates gave the university an elegant solution.

The firm’s Beijing team offered the entire scope of expertise needed to bring the project from concept to completion. Yale needed only to collaborate with a single team through a single point of contact for the project’s duration.

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Embodying the history of a university in flexible, sustainable architecture section

They were essentially a ‘one-stop-shop’. We didn’t have to worry about contractors or permitting or anything – they took care of all that”, shares Yale’s David Bach.  

Click to see David Bach talk about M Moser’s single-source approach.

The architect-led design and delivery approach proved invaluable even before anything was designed, with the project team using their local knowledge to help select the project site on the 36th floor of the IFC Building. This ensured that the architecture and infrastructure would support an exceptionally flexible design and Yale’s goal of LEED Gold Certification for sustainability.



Embodying the history of a university in flexible, sustainable architecture section

Long distance collaboration

As the design evolved, the team used technologies like 3D modelling to interact with Yale from across the globe.

As David recalls, “When our team had some ideas, the M Moser designers would propose multiple versions for us to choose from, mock them up in three dimensions literally while we were sleeping, and then send them to us so we could make an informed choice first thing in the morning. It meant we never encountered delays because the project kept moving around the clock.

Embodying the history of a university in flexible, sustainable architecture section

Once construction was underway, every Friday morning the M Moser team would send a video walk-through of the entire site, so we could really see the progress that was being made. It was a good way for us to stay connected with the team and to maintain a shared knowledge base.”

Click to see David Bach talk about video walk-throughs.

Embodying the history of a university in flexible, sustainable architecture section

Designed for working, learning & meeting

Given the complex nature of the brief for Yale Center Beijing, perhaps the most remarkable thing about the finished facility its elegant simplicity; every feature and space is more than it at first seems, revealing its versatility only when required, in a seamless, intuitive way.

The reception area provides visitors with an immediate example of this “sophisticated simplicity”. Semi-open and minimalist-contemporary, it flows across much of the floor plate, with the curve of its blue feature wall drawing the eye and giving homage to the Yale School of Management’s iconic Evans Hall building.


Embodying the history of a university in flexible, sustainable architecture section

The reception also flows directly into a long, naturally lit dining area/lounge/discussion area which runs along the very edge of the floor plate. By simply removing or rearranging some lightweight tables and chairs, it and reception are transformed into a single large venue for social events, exhibitions or large-scale lectures.

Click to see Joel Getz talk about flexible spaces.

Nearby is the facility’s sole single-purpose space – a tiered, amphitheatre-like lecture hall, bordered by a pair of glass-fronted booths for translators. An adjacent room conceals a Media Control Centre for the state-of-the-art AV system whose large screens and optimised audio enable real-time interaction between lecturers in New Haven and students in Beijing.

Embodying the history of a university in flexible, sustainable architecture section

The back-of-house areas at the opposite end of the floor take a different approach: rather than being defined by curves, its spaces – including a series of small discussion/office rooms and a large open-plan study area – are precisely delineated by straight lines. Careful planning and the use of transparent walls ensure that the result is anything but confining either in function or feel.

Donn Tann shares, “We considered how the space might be used for different purposes in the future. This is reflected in such things as the dimensions of the corridors along the classrooms and discussion rooms, which are wider than code.”

Embodying the history of a university in flexible, sustainable architecture section

The result

While innovative space planning and functional design give the completed project the highly-flexible, multiple-use space that Yale sought, it is the design’s subtle mix of modern and traditional materials – all of which were chosen for their sustainability – and evocative forms that place it firmly in the university’s tradition.

Donn concludes: “The finished space offers the best of two worlds – it interprets the traditional aspects of Yale using modern and minimalist sensibilities, while at the same time engaging very directly with its Beijing location. It communicates the client’s identity and character and moves forward with the times.”

Watch the related video on YouTube or YouKu.

  • Status Completed
  • Area 16,500 sq-ft
  • Completion date 2014
  • Location Beijing
  • Sustainability LEED Gold

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