On the Road to Avenues

Engineering a New School in Shenzhen, China

Comfortable across borders. Skilled in using advanced technologies. Concerned about the ecosystem. These sound like attributes of Syska employees, right? But we fooled you: They’re descriptions of students who attend Avenues, a K-12 school with campuses in New York and São Paulo and another underway in Shenzhen.

We started working with Avenues: The World School in 2018 as peer reviewers of construction documents for the new site. Since then, our role has expanded to MEP Engineering, Information and Communications technology (ICT) consulting. The latter is exceptionally important, given Avenues’ emphasis on state-of-the-art technology, such as interactive teaching wall, networked video walls and video conferencing, on integration with Apple devices, and seamless WiFi connections.

As you might imagine, we love working with Avenues, given the alignment of our values. We also appreciate the creativity of the designs by Efficiency Lab for Architecture, PLLC, which almost make us want to go back to school. Almost. Here are more details about what we’re doing in Shenzhen:

“In keeping with Avenues’ philosophy, the team used technology to stay in touch from anywhere in the world."

We are now working on Phase II of this project, which encompasses the transformation of a six-story building into the school’s secondary division. Following the structural and façade upgrade, it will feature a student activity area on the roof, a plethora of science and art labs, and a bridge that connects to other campus buildings.

Phase III, which the team will begin soon, has two components. The first is the ground-up construction of a one-story multipurpose building. The second is another retrofit of an existing building: This one contains five stories, and it will be turned into a primary division facility.

As we developed our approach to the project, we had to keep three key considerations in mind: retrofits, global coordination, and variances in local standards.

1. Retrofits

Retrofits are rarely straightforward. The conversions in Shenzhen are especially complicated, says Joon Loo, the project manager, who is doing the hard work. He explains that height limitations and the designation of the roof as an activity area restrict the options for MEP equipment. Eventually the team chose variable refrigerant flow (VRF) for the HVAC systems because they take up the least amount of ceiling space. VRF, notes Joon, minimizes the HVAC system footprint without sacrificing efficacy – an ideal solution for adaptive reuse. Air purifiers are also being installed in each classroom to provide better filtration and high levels of IAQ (Indoor Air Quality). Consequently, Avenues can solve the PM2.5 issue and create a healthy environment for kids.

2. Global coordination

The team had to coordinate work with not only the various trades around the world, but also with various Syska offices. Wayne Hui, who serves as the client leader for Avenues projects, is based in New York City, where Avenues is headquartered. Brian Nguyen, who oversees the ICT efforts, is based in the same office. But they work closely with Joon in Shanghai and with Jose Herrera, a Syska principal in San Francisco. “We don’t sleep,” says Shanghai-based principal Ing Lim semi-seriously.

In keeping with Avenues’ philosophy, the team used technology to stay in touch from anywhere in the world. Microsoft Teams or Zoom enabled videoconferencing and BIM 360 enabled collaboration on shared files in the cloud. These technologies became even more important after the pandemic hit, making it possible for progress to continue without in-person meetings.

3. Variances in Local Standards

Avenues has strict design guidelines, but in implementing them, the team has to ensure compliance with local regulations. In Shenzhen, the ICT team has to adapt USA-standard IT guidelines for local code compliance. Fortunately, there are Syska ICT specialists in Shanghai who consult with Brian. What’s also helpful on a more macro-level are lessons learned from previous Avenues projects. The team initially analyzed the New York City and São Paulo projects (completed by other firms) to inform the design of the Shenzhen campus. “Eventually, we’ll be able to analyze what works best in Shenzhen and finesse the design for other schools,” says Brian. “We hope there will be more on the way.”

Wayne adds: “Being a part of the Avenues School design team is extremely rewarding. There is nothing like applying our engineering knowledge to create environments that help foster the growth of young minds and future leaders.”

Photography © Efficiency Lab for Architecture

“There is nothing like applying our engineering knowledge to create environments that help foster the growth of young minds and future leaders."