This beautiful bamboo Bridge School in Xiashi, China is one of the five winners for the 2010 Aga Khan Award for Architecture. The project is located in a rural Chinese village, and it has rejuvenated the entire community by providing a place for children to learn, a means to cross the town's river, and a public gathering space. Li Xiaodong designed and built the little two-room schoolhouse as a multi-purpose facility for the whole village, and it has become the heart of the town.
Li Xiaodong was asked to design a small school for the village of Xiashi in the Fujian Province, and he had the idea to combine the school with a pedestrian bridge that connected two historic toulou (circular castles made from packed dirt). A creek runs right through the middle of the village and the toulou serve as important historical landmarks, so it made sense to locate the school at the physical heart of the village. As Xiaodong says, the concept resulted in “minimum intervention, yet maximum impact – to rejuvenate the whole community.”
The school is constructed out of two large steel spans that cross the bridge and smaller steel supports and framing. Local materials and wood were used to create the facade, interior furnishings and school furniture. While the steel is very modern, especially in the context of a rural village, the material will last a long time while creating a structurally-sound school. The use of local materials helps the building blend texturally and aesthetically with the rest of the village.
Louvers and walls can be opened or closed depending on the season or programs taking place within the school. Two classrooms sit on either side of the bridge, and they are separated by a community library. Slides and various staircases allow access into the classrooms, and children are loath to leave school because it is like a playground for them.
Meanwhile, villagers congregate around the school’s courtyards and use the facilities for community activities. A walkway suspended by cables underneath the bridge school crosses the creek and is used by everyone when school is not in session. The north end of the school can be opened up and used as a stage for performances or other community projects.