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The Wenzhou International School

As you may know we entered a competition for the design of a 158 000sqm school project named Wenzhou International School, located on the south-east shore of China.
This boarding school is divided into two plots, one dedicated to the teaching areas and the other to the living areas. It hosts a high school and a middle school, including also both an outdoor and indoor sport complex, an office area and a conference center.

The design of the masterplan is a unique blending of tradition and art : the three rectangular key buildings have been inspired by the Wenzhou Guzhi, a traditional Chinese musical instrument, and the general organization of the site has been inspired by the artworks of the famous artist Mondrian following the idea to create a very functional and rational distribution of the flows inside the site and create a unique colorful pattern for the project.

The facade has been designed to be a perfect mix of tradition and innovation as the school is as well for its students.
The first two levels are built as brick wall enriched by openings, perforations and three-dimensional patterns, they resemble the strong and solid teaching tradition of the school and of the Chinese country.

The upper-floors are a light and bright combination of glass and aluminum panel providing all the necessary daylight using the minimum amount of glass.
This part resembles the innovation and the bright future ahead of students and school.

The school bird-view
Bird View.jpg

The school from the South angle
From the south angle.jpg

The school from the North-West angle
The North-west corner.jpg

The school from the South-East angle
The South-east corner.jpg

The master plan
Plan overview.jpg

Just a regular architecture competition in China

Like you guys probably already know there are two ways to get a contract in this business, you can prospect and convince clients that you are the best to carry out their projects or you can decide not to sleep for a month and enter a competition…
That is what we have been up to for the past few weeks, we are designing a 150 000sqm private school project in Wenzhou and believe me it ain't no picnic.
Competitions in China are very hard on architects because they have generally no more than a month to create a concept, do the drawings and 3D renders, and build a solid presentation. If you add to that the fact that there is almost no financial compensation, well you'd better be fast and good to win.
Let me quickly guide you through the process of a competition in China...

At first the client gives you the building documents and a proposal for the project. With these, the architect have all the data and information necessary to start working on the concept design. The problem is that the client is not an architect and you need to verify every number he gives you to check that there is not one mistake in the calculations. So take a red pen and spend your first sleepless nights on excel.

Once you have passed your temporary state of dyslexia and thought about your concept design, you can start working on your master plan, which is a 2D overview of the project you have in mind. But in China it is not that easy because the client, especially if it is a governmental project, ask for a story behind the design. This part sometimes comes after the concept design phase, so Wikipedia becomes your best friend and you try to link the general look of your building with some aspects of the local culture or some artist's work.

When you are done with that step, the delivery service of your favorite fast food is in speed dial and your eyes start to adopt a beautiful reddish color.
Now you need to add some details to your project by working on the facades aspect and the inside layout of your building. But don't fool yourself, the client is almost always a neophyte when it comes to architecture and will not pay attention to all of your complicated blueprints. Then you need to contract a render company which will turn your many days of work into a wonderful 3D model.

Now your sweat pants have become a second skin and your heart stars pumping pure Red Bull in your veins (ok, maybe I am exaggerating a little bit…) but it not over. Once you have everything you need to prove your client that you are the best, you need to design a submission book which will contain everything you have done during the past weeks. This book represents the image of your agency so do not let your guard down and design something beautiful, it's almost over.

Ok, time to suit up and present your project to your client using all the multimedia elements possible to illustrate your work: PowerPoints, flash animations, videos…
Everything you can find to bring out the best of your design. And then … You're done!
You can fall into a deep coma for a few hours and start all over again!

Opening a new architecture and interior design agency in China

China is nothing like it was back in the 80's or the 90's, the construction business has literally exploded thanks to the many foreign companies that at one point thought "hey, our national market is too small, lets sell our products to 1billion people overseas". In fact, in 2020, the Chinese construction market will overcome the American one. Yes you've heard me, in less than 10 years!

To help you understand how it works here, please step into our today's Chinese vocabulary class (sorry for those who already speak Mandarin…). Here everything is about your "Guanxi", basically it means "network" and if you are new in the market it can also mean problems… And you also need to realize something, the pharaonic projects won't knock at your door every morning, first of all because there are not so many of them and also because they are most of the time the private hunting ground of the big Chinese agencies. But then again don't give up, it is not uncommon than the design step is given to a foreign agency!

So chill out, it is not as bad as it looks. Many new agencies have become really famous in China although they had started from scratches, nobody knew their name and they did not have a two hundred pages portfolio.They just realized that beside being creative and efficient, branding was one of the keys to enter this market. Then they started to focus on marketing, communication and the most important thing here, bounding with the main Chinese actors of the business. Being good at what you do is not enough, you have to make yourself a name to be competitive. In fact one big or one very original project can be enough to put your company on top of the charts, you can become the cool foreign agency very fast or keep playing in the paddling pool, it's up to you.

My main point here is that it's not easy but there's light at the end of the tunnel, so if you want to enter this market come well-prepared and pack an extra bag of "did I already gave you my business card ?".

The Shanghai office

What about taking a little trip back to Memory Lane together...
We are in 2009 and we badly want to settle a beautiful new office in Shanghai.
First of all we needed a nice location, and there is no better place for us than the French Concession, in the very heart of Shanghai boiling and exiting life. If you can’t read Chinese (don’t worry, your favorite writer for today doesn’t), I have to tell you that our local name is pronounced “Fa Jian”, which means “French Architecture”, pretty coherent so far since we have stared our activity in Paris… For this reason we have all decided to design the agency according to our French origins, using the colors of our good old flag: blue, white and red
(or Red, White And Blue if you are a Lynyrd Skynyrd fan). We even have recreated the flag thanks to three colored helmets hanged on the wall with our name printed on them.

Always according to our roots, the interior design is quite simple and minimalist but we added some really cool features like the chalkboard wall and ceiling! Do you remember these? We used to write on them during the pre-Ipad era? Now every time that we got an idea popping trough our mind, or just if we feel like drawing something, we grab a piece of chalk and go back to childhood except this time we are allowed to write on the walls.

You probably also know that as architects and designers we are always sinking under a see of furniture catalogues, architecture books and carpet samples. That is why we have chosen to install several giant shelves and cabinets that close thanks to slates panels, I guess we really like to draw on everything but paper…

Another pretty cool element is our see-through office door. We wanted an open space configuration because it enhances the creativity and the collaboration between co-workers but when you need to make important phone calls or focus on a difficult project, you need calm. So as a compromise we spent 3 months to design an original “pixel-pattern” which somehow remains me of old school video games like the timeless Space Invader or the French Post-it war (Google it if you have never heard of it, just amazing).


Why did we choose this name

When creating the name and brand image of an Architecture/Interior Design firm, there are two styles companies tend to favor.
The default is usually to include the name of the primary architect(s), for example, Claude and Starck, Karen Bausman + Associates, F+A Architects, etc.
This option was not available to us, as the combined names of the two primary partners is just ridiculous: Hoprasartsuk-Pellaumail + Xu. Impossible to remember, not to mention pronounce, by 99% of the world.

Therefore we had to opt for the second choice; create a unique moniker, a brand name.
So why Artekt? We wanted something simple, easy to pronounce, and representative of our business core and ideals. Artekt is a contraction of art+architecture+technique, which not only explains what we do, but how we do it. It's also helpful for marketing that it begins with an A, which puts it at the top of most listings, and in both Chinese and English conveys positivity.

A quick internet search shows that Artech, and Artect, but not Artekt, are already widely used as brand names for many companies, including other architecture firms and a IT companies. Artekt is in use by one small firm in Germany, 9000km away from us. We're not worried about interfering with their business or competing with them, as we're in completely different professional worlds. And in China, it's not detrimental that our business happens to sound German; BMW and Bosch/Siemens have cemented their reputation here for quality, reliability, and efficiency.

Welcome to The Architecture Office

Follow ARTEKT 法建, an architecture and interior design agency based in Shanghai. Because we think that transparence and communication are key values in our business, this blog will deal with both good and bad sides of developing our company in China. So get on board with us in this exiting experience, fasten your seatbelt because it is not always an easy ride and do not hesitate to share with us your thoughts on design, China or any related subjects.
Welcome to The architecture office !