Dezeen Magazine

Outdoor learning spaces animate Azabudai Hills school by Heatherwick Studio

Double-height balconies and outdoor teaching spaces enliven the facades of The British School in Tokyo, which architecture practice Heatherwick Studio has completed in Japan.

The school is located in the south of Azabudai Hills, a mixed-use district designed by Heatherwick Studio, which is made up of various timber buildings defined by curving roofs and greenery.

Heatherwick Studio's and Japanese developer Mori Building Company's ambition for the school was to be visually distinct yet complementary to these neighbouring structures.

Front elevation of The British School in Tokyo in Azabudai Hills by Heatherwick Studio
Heatherwick Studio has released photos of The British School in Tokyo

"The client wanted the school to have a different but complementary character to the rest of the Azabudai Hills scheme," the studio told Dezeen.

"As such, it nestles within the pavilion and landscape scheme we've created, overlooking the central garden plaza to the north," it continued.

"The client also wanted it to have a strong individual presence on the street that didn't feel commercial or business-like. They wanted it to feel friendly and approachable, like a school!"

People walking in Azabudai Hills in Japan
The school forms part of its Azabudai Hills district in Tokyo

According to Heatherwick Studio, the presence of the school within the district references the impact of Stanton Williams' placement of the arts college Central Saint Martins in the heart of King's Cross in London.

"We felt that – as seen with Central Saint Martins at the centre of the King's Cross development – having a school can be a key anchor to a project, bringing life and activity to the scheme from different angles," the studio explained.

Cascading balconies of The British School in Tokyo in Azabudai Hills by Heatherwick Studio
Double-height balconies and outdoor teaching spaces enliven the facade

To achieve its distinct identity, the studio animated the building's facades with a mix of outdoor play spaces and double-height balconies.

Curved brick details and fluted columns were also designed visually soften the blocky form of the building, which was dictated by the given site's boundaries and the client's programme requirements.

"The plot boundary and programme were already fixed, which resulted in an, approximately, 100-metre-long building of seven storeys," the studio explained.

"Because of the block-like form, we worked hard to adjust its character for its three main elevations, using the required outdoor learning spaces and playgrounds to bring variety to the building's appearance."

Brick facade of The British School in Tokyo in Azabudai Hills by Heatherwick Studio
The use of bricks and columns references an old post office nearby

The balconies can be seen along the eastern facade, arranged in a cascading formation and overlooking a garden at the centre of Azabudai Hills. Meanwhile, the stepped columns can be found all around the building.

"The stepped columns both push through and blend open to create fluting ceilings under the main outdoor terraces, drawing the eye up along its elevations," the studio explained.

Inside, The British School in Tokyo has 40 classrooms, alongside music rooms, libraries, a laboratory and a roof garden with a vegetable patch.

Each year group also has a common area, which opens onto the adjoining outdoor spaces. They can also be connected to the classrooms through sliding timber screens.

Double-height balcony by Heatherwick Studio
The balconies are arranged in a cascading formation

A range of sports facilities, including an indoor hall, gymnasium and swimming pool, alongside two outdoor pitches, complete the building.

Elsewhere in the district, Heatherwick Studio has created residential buildings, retail and restaurant spaces, two temples, art galleries and offices, which collectively replaced more than 200 existing structures on the site.

The British School in Tokyo's brickwork and columns are intended as a reference to the facade of the old Azabu Post Office that previously occupied a neighbouring plot.

Child playing at The British School in Tokyo
It is aimed to bring "life and activity" to the district

Heatherwick Studio is a London architecture and design studio founded by British designer Thomas Heatherwick in 1994.

Its other recent architectural projects include proposals for a public library in Columbia and an exhibition hall in Shanghai.

The photography is by Raquel Diniz and the video is courtesy of Heatherwick Studio.