Confucius Institute\

Infrastructure for teaching mandarin

The Institute of Education approached Hawkins\Brown to deliver teaching and working spaces for the Confucius Institute for schools.

The Confucius Institute is a project developed by the Peking University in collaboration with University College London and supported by the Office of Chinese Language. Its’ aim is to support schools in starting and developing the teaching and learning of Mandarin Chinese.

In the last 15 years the Confucius Institute has grown into a well-established institution and now needs to consolidate its’ identity within UCL and communicate it to the wider public. As part of their rebranding strategy the CI decided to refurbish their current run-down headquarters into a state of the art facility.

The Challenge

The house forms part of an extraordinary Georgian terrace erected in London’s Bloomsbury Conservation Area and is regarded by English Heritage as a building of exceptional interest.

Over the years the building has gone through a series of radical interventions and alterations within the decoration and joinery to accommodate offices. Regardless of the history of these adaptations and the lack of authenticity to some of the existing features, its’ Grade II status made any change incredibly difficult. The proposal continues the British tradition of vitality and adaptation and aims to add another chapter to the building’s long and layered history.

“Our goal is to give every school in the UK the opportunity to teach Chinese, so that young people can benefit from this new linguistic and cultural horizon in the future.”

Confucius Institute Vision

The house is divided into three distinct areas: the teaching facilities, the reception rooms and the offices. Based on the idea that the house will be used for formal and informal activities at the same time each floor responds to the different levels of formality.

The ground floor is the most public area. This is the space where formal meetings and events will be held. The basement is the teaching area where students will attend lectures and seminars. The upper floors accommodate the offices, the board room and the library. The rear wing houses the communal canteen where students and staff will gather.

The Big Idea

The underlying idea for the design was to celebrate cross-cultural encounters.

The colour and material palette were inspired by traditional Chinese paintings and furniture. The building also features British and Chinese furnishings that showcase the quality and continuity of craftsmanship of both countries.

The proposal aims to contribute to the history of the building and not to mimic historical styles and elements. A combination of traditional and new materials such as stone, walnut, laminate and coloured MDF have been used in an unconventional way emphasising the continuity between the old and the new. Accents of brass were used to warm the palette and reference the traditional Chinese decoration.

Developed in collaboration with some of the UK’s finest specialists, the custom made joinery transforms the existing spaces while highlighting the original features.

Confucius was a Chinese teacher, editor, politician, and philosopher of the Spring and Autumn period of Chinese history.

The proposal seeks to give the users as much choice as possible in terms of working styles and atmosphere. The furniture defines a wide range of work settings from individual workstations to formal meeting rooms and collaborative work areas. Great attention was given to the use and flexibility of the rooms. Whilst the bespoke furniture provides structure to the space, the loose furniture can be reconfigured and adapted to suit a wide range of activities.

The furniture selection reflects the Institute’s ambition to celebrate cultural encounters. We worked in collaboration with British manufactures to specify furniture designed by both young and well established local designers. The Chinese furniture was specified in collaboration with the China Design Centre, a London based institution which promotes Chinese contemporary design in the UK.

Project Summary

  • Project name: Confucius Institute, UCL
  • Location: London, UK
  • Sectors: Education & Research , Workplace
  • Value: £1.1m
  • Type: Refurbishment , Restoration
  • Clients: University College London , Institute of Education
  • Status: Complete
  • Completion date: 2017

Project Team

Heritage consultant: Turley
Quantity Surveyor: Gardiner & Theobald
Structural engineer: Curtins
Service Engineer: Parsons Brinckerhoff
Contractor: Overbury


  • BD Architect of the Year Awards 2018 - Interior Architect of the Year - Shortlisted

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