‘Floating Forest’ Propels Chinese School to World Building of Year!

Mass timber-rich projects featured in several of the short listed projects for the World Architecture Festival top prize.

Tue 05 Dec 23


A Chinese boarding school featuring a “floating forest” and designed to let students unwind “and waste time mindfully” has been crowned 2023 “World Building of the Year.”

The project, which features a rooftop park, treehouses and elevated walkways, secured the title at the World Architecture Festival (WAF) in Singapore on Friday.

The WAF is considered one of the world’s most prestigious architecture awards, with Wood Central Contributor Mark Thomson being one of 140 judges from 68 countries in Singapore for the three-day design festival.

Day 1 of the World Architecture Festival in Singapore last week – footage courtesy of @worldarchitecturefestival246

Designed by Approach Design Studio and the Zhejiang University of Technology Engineering Design Group, the communal areas of the Huizhen High School campus blur the distinction between inside and out. 

By “condensing” the teaching space, the school “freed up a “floating forest” in the direction where the teaching building faces the morning sun,” according to Approach Design Studio.

With a focus on urban greening, “the lush structure of rainforest plants and towering trees complement each other to create a vertical layering of plant communities within the forest.”

“This technique,” it said, “achieved through layer upon layer of stacking, sets the vertical greening of this space apart from a typical green wall and adds interest to the overall green atmosphere.”

Day 2 of the World Architecture Festival in Singapore last week – footage courtesy of @worldarchitecturefestival246

Di Ma, director at Approach Design Studio, said, “The focus was not just about designing a school, or working with new forms, spaces, materials and facades, but about designing new school life and bringing the power of nature into the building.”

Citing the jury while presenting the award on stage, WAF’s program director, Paul Finch, described the project as “(as) unexpected as it is delightful.”

“The architects managed to create a school which is very different than the usual model, where students are boxed in and put under teaching — as well as architectural — pressure,” Finch told more than 1,000 at the Gala Dinner at the Marina Bay Sands.

“By contrast, this design encourages walking, fresh air and the possibility of relief from academic intensity.”

Day 3 of the World Architecture Festival in Singapore last week – footage courtesy of @worldarchitecturefestival246

The project beat out a shortlist of 250 projects, including Newark Liberty International Airport’s recently opened Terminal A, Australia’s Holocaust Museum in Melbourne and new national stadiums in Cambodia and Senegal.

Buildings were judged across 18 categories, spanning commercial, cultural and residential architecture. Those winners then competed for the overall prize.

The category winners included the Boola Katatjin – which won the Higher Education and Research Prize – for a project incorporating 1800 pieces of mass timber installed like jigsaws in a puzzle.

Boola Katajin, the Southern Hemisphere’s largest mass timber building, is one of Australia’s most celebrated buildings, and last week was awarded “Project of the Year” by Engineers Australia.

Other category winners included the “Victoria Heart” project  which secured the Health Overall Building Prize – Australia’s first dedicated cardiac facility, globally recognised for its biophilia and salutogenic design principles.

Fisher and Paykel’s $220m “radical” global headquarters, set to be New Zealand’s largest cross-laminated project, was crowned the “WAFX Award – Building Technology Winner and was “highly commended” across several award categories.

FP 2 oasis RTA 1140x601 1
The Fisher and Paykel global headquarters uses mass timber construction systems to meet ambitious net-zero targets in embodied and operational carbon. (Image Credit: Renders provided by Fisher and Paykel)

Designed by RTA Design, Wood Central last month reported that the new campus development will use a similar diagrid design as Scion Innovation House, which the World Architecture Festival awarded with the 2021 WAF Building of the Year. 

According to Mr Thomson, the design shifts the focus from gravity mass timber buildings to geometrically stiffened forms to help in earthquake conditions.

Other category winners included India’s 2.1 million-square-metre Surat Diamond Bourse, which this year surpassed the Pentagon to become the world’s largest office building, the Lanserhof Sylt, a hotel and health resort in Germany, where buildings combine to form the largest thatched roof in Europe, and a residential home in the suburbs of Winnipeg, Canada.

India’s Surat Diamond Bourse, which was constructed last year, has overtaken the US Pentagon to become the world’s largest office building – footage courtesy of @WION.

Held in Singapore, which is home to three recent winners of World Building of the Year, WAF also handed out prizes for landscape architecture — this year awarded to the Benjakitti Forest Park in Bangkok, Thailand, an “urban ecological sanctuary” being developed on the grounds of a former tobacco plant — as well as proposals for ambitious future architecture projects and interior design.

Australia’s Quay Quarter Tower claimed last year’s top prize, dubbed the world’s first “upcycled” high-rise after its design retained two-thirds of an old skyscraper on the site.


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    Wood Central is Australia’s first and only dedicated platform covering wood-based media across all digital platforms. Our vision is to develop an integrated platform for media, events, education, and products that connect, inform, and inspire the people and organisations who work in and promote forestry, timber, and fibre.


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