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Hele International Art Center, PONE Architecture, AZ Awards 2019

Offer children the chance to play architect and you might expect them to draw a brightly coloured building with monkey bars and a slide. But never underestimate kids – their insights into built form just might surprise you.

That was a lesson that PONE Architecture design director Ming Leung learned recently after her daughter wondered aloud why soap bubbles pop when they make contact with ceilings instead of bursting through those ceilings. Her innocent question went on to inform Leung’s firm’s vision for the Hele International Art Center, a school for the performing and visual arts that offers evening and weekend ballet, music, painting and martial arts lessons
to some 2,000 children.

“The ethereal, bubble-like forms that press against the walls and ceilings of the space are organic and supple. Their effect is an ineffable lightness combined with spatial drama.”
Johnson Chou
Hele International Art Center, PONE Architecture, AZ Awards 2019

The government-owned agency spearheading the project, China Poly Education, sought a facility that felt professional rather than overtly childish, but which still reflected the playful spirit of its young students. A building inspired by bubbles fit the bill perfectly. Throughout the interior, white staircases, walls and canopies twist, turn and flow into one another to mimic the ways that bubbles stretch and warp. Large oblong spaces, enclosed by blond wood-grain composite panels, form classrooms, dance studios and a 242-square-metre amphitheatre, while smaller areas are dedicated to dressing rooms and parent lounges.

The result is a rarity in children’s architecture: a kid-oriented building that reflects the world as they actually see it, rather than the way adults have imagined it for them. Ultimately, there’s no better way to encourage young artists than by showing them the power of their own ideas.

AZ Awards category Interiors: Commercial and Institutional Project Hele International Art Center
Location Wuhan, China Firm PONE Architecture, Guangzhou, China Team Ming Leung, Golden Ho, Pinyong Luo, Weilong Li, Yueliu Hua, Jianyun Jiang, Yuanmiao Chen, Junneng Hong and Xiaoliang Lin

Winner: Commercial and Institutional
AZ Awards 2019 Winner: Hele International Art Center

Winning in Interiors: Commercial and Institutional, this resplendent arts centre in Wuhan, China, was inspired by soap bubbles.

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