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A Beijing Square Designed for Everyday Occupation

'Rollercoaster' is both a monumental sculpture and a functional gathering space

Interval Architects

Architect Adolf Loos believed that truly modern architecture should have furniture integrated with its walls. In several of his buildings, bare benches, cushioned seating areas and sets of drawers emerge seamlessly from the interior architecture. In blurring the line between walls and furniture, Loos opened up his buildings for free interpretation, allowing walls and objects to take on double meanings and function in manifold ways.

With this in mind, it seems as if the architects at Interval Architects had intended to make a truly modern public space. The result: Rollercoaster, a continuously folding and unfolding structure that is both a monumental sculpture and a functional gathering space set in the central square of one of Beijing’s best vocational schools.

Rollercoaster is a remarkable structure that synthesizes seemingly divergent demands of the site. The school had initially sought to erect a monumental sculpture in the central square of the campus, building a huge pedestal in anticipation. What Interval Architects proposed instead was “not a monument in the center of the campus, but a humanistic and functional gathering space for students.” Yet, in keeping with the school’s original demands, they unveiled plans for an iconic structure resembling the image of a rollercoaster.

Rollercoaster folds and unfolds three-dimensionally, turning at different axes so that the continuous pathway instantly changes from a footpath to a wall to an overhang and back again. The design offers a series of different spaces, from small open gardens with trees and grass to shaded pavilions delineated by trellis-like walls. The long corridors with bench-like seating evoke linear parks in the vein of the High Line.

That Rollercoaster was chosen to occupy the square is an interesting decision on the part of the school. The project not only functions as a more inviting gathering space than an empty square with a monumental sculpture at its center, but it signifies a choice to express the more democratic ideology latent in its architecture over more traditional alternatives. Just imagine a continuous folding and unfolding Rollercoaster snaking all over a central public place like Tiananmen Square, creating unique, intimate pockets of space in place of the uniform open expanse.

[All photos courtesy the architects]

This article originally appeared at, an Atlantic partner site.

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