Running Tracks & Playgrounds Built on Chinese School Rooftops

An oval running track cleverly designed and built onto the roof of a school in China.


From QQ:

Rooftop “Wonder”

Just as the new school year has started, news of a track field built on top of a primary school’s roof in Tiantai County in Zhejiang province attracted a lot of attention. Many people questioned the safety of a rooftop track field. Some people are concerned the railings are not strong enough while others fear that a thousand students on the rooftop can cause the building to collapse. A rooftop track field may look as if it is merely adapting to local needs, representing a daring and innovative design, it instead reveals the phenomenon of insufficient land for the construction of schools in recent years, and this phenomenon is most often seen at schools serving the children of migrant workers that already lack teachers and funding. Photo [above] is of 2010 September 1, when the Hangzhou Tianhua School held an orientation ceremony on the school rooftop. All the students in the school are children of migrant workers. Due to the lack of land and other resources, they could only build an athletic field on the roof.


On 2014 September 1, Zhejiang Tiantai Country Cicheng No. 2 Elementary School’s rooftop oval athletic track officially went into use, with students running and playing on the circular track for the first time. This running track fulfills the educational activity needs of 1600 to 1800 students in 36 classes. This building of a running track on the roof is the first of its kind in China. The design represented China in the “14th Biennial Venice International Architecture Exhibition”. Behind the praise this design garnered is the awkward/embarrassing reality of “one building for one school”.


The “Guidelines for Ordinary Primary and Middle Schools” across China all set the amount of area dedicated to student activities. To use Shandong province as an example, the “Shandong Standard Guidelines for Ordinary Primary Schools” requires: “The physical education space should satisfy the school’s needs for track and field, basketball, ping-pong, sports equipment and other exercise uses, as well as class and extracurricular activities.” In a middle school with 24 classes as an example, the requirements clearly specify “at least 10893 m² for sport activity uses”. However, many schools failed to reach the minimum requirements. Photo is of 2005 October 13, as Wuhan Lingzhi Elementary School students do their morning exercises on the rooftop. All 10 classes in 6 different grades take classes on the second floor, while the roof was converted into an exercise yard.


With the development of cities, many middle and elementary schools in cities have been surrounded by high-rise buildings, with the activity space for children becoming smaller and smaller. As a result of being located in the city center where every inch of lands commands high sums, these schools are unable to expand, can only use make use of what limited resources they have, and thus a school’s roof becomes the best place to expand usable area. Photo is of May 28th, of a small green garden on the roof of Hanzhou Anji Road Experimental School, as students were followed the teacher to the rooftop garden to relax and rest after class.


The amount of land set aside for education use comes from the government’s allocation from public lands. 2001’s “Land Allocation Directive” clearly states non-profit educational facilities including schools classroom, office, laboratory, research, as well as cultural and physical education facilities are all included in the land allocation. But reality tells a different story. The property close to schools are all considered “school district housing” [desirable residential property near a school, usually allowing a resident child to attend that school], and will thus naturally demand higher real estate prices, which makes local governments even less willing to give this kind of “fatty meat” [lucrative property] over to the schools without compensation. Photo is of 2009 December 16, at Shenzhen Shekou Dongwan Elementary, a lack of space they forced them to convert the school’s roof into an activity space.


2012 November 27, Fujian province Putian city, the “athletic field in the sky” constructed by Nanmen Middle School on its rooftop. Because the school is located in the city center, with limited area, building a rooftop athletic field was one of the ways to expand activity space.


On 2012 March 26, a kindergarten and early education organization in Beijing’s Changping District Tiantongyuan East turned their roof into a physical activity space, where dozens of children play on the roof everyday.


2011 May 13, a kindergarten in Jinan constructed a “playground in the sky” on the third floor roof. Two years ago, after Mrs. Liu’s kindergarten moved here, it rented the entire third floor of the building, but because there was no open space to build a playground, they had no choice but to install railings and convert the roof into a playground.


Apart from schools lacking physical activity space, many schools also face other teaching resources shortages and inadequate school facilities. Photo is of 2012 September 1, where Hubei province Macheng city Shunhe village parents prepare their children for school, the most important being to bring a desk to school. Currently there are 5000 students in Shuenhe Village, and right before the semester started, about 2000 new desks were allocated to a Project Hope school and central elementary, meaning over 3000 students still need to bring their own desks to school like previous generations. Photo is of Lu Siling’s mother riding a scooter carrying her daughter and her desk to a school 2.4km away.


2011 December 7, in Guangxi province Liuzhou city, temperature have dropped to minus 10 Celsius, accompanied with category 3 winds and rain. Due to years of neglect, every window at Xingzhi Elementary classrooms is broken, and the windows for the classrooms on the north end are in especially bad shape, almost without a single window intact. To block sudden bursts of cold air, the teacher that day brought some old cardboard boxes folded up to seal the windows. However, the cold wind still blew through the seams, and the blocked off windows darkened the classrooms impacting the students’ vision.


In migrant workers schools [schools serving the children of migrant workers], there are even more serious inadequacies with school facilities. Photo is of 2011 June, in an elementary school in Anhui province Hefei city, of migrant worker children sleeping on their desks.


The same situation happens in Anhui province Huangshan city. On 2012 May 24, at the Xidi Central Elementary in Anhui Huangshan, many “left-behind children” [children who remain in their hometowns with grandparents/relatives while their parents work elsewhere in the country] sleep on the desks in the classroom. According to one teacher, there are a total of 81 students with only 4 classes, including 1st to 6th grade, with an average of 20 students per class. Every day during noon, the teacher will also sleep in the classroom with the students.


2012 February 27, in Zhejiang province Zhuji city, due to the lack of sports equipment, the teacher played ping-pong on a stone platform with his students.


Not only do many migrant worker schools have limited space, some even have problems finding a stable/fixed location. In the face of demolition and relocation [land redevelopment], the students have no choice but to constantly move with the school. On 2014 August 21, in Zhengzhou, due to the demolition of the inner-city ghetto, Jinwen Elementary faced having to relocate for the third time in a year. The school entrance was blocked by a parked excavator, while the gate and gatehouse had already been torn down. With demolition imminent, classrooms were also ransacked by unknown people.


2011 October 13, Beijing, the New Hope School for migrant worker children was demolished this past August. Nearly two hundred migrant worker children who were students of the school were were reassigned to a public school – Xuefuyuan Elementary. A little over a month into the start of school, the children can only attend Chinese language and math classes, with no teachers available to teach the English language class and other electives. Photo is of migrant worker children students having to go through a small door in order to get to the school’s main gate/entrance.


We’ve chanted ”No matter how poor we are, we must not skimp on education; no matter how hard things are, we must not have the children suffer” and such slogans for years, but in the pursuit of ever higher buildings and larger plazas, we’ve sacrificed the education and activity space for children. Photo is of 2011 August 15, in Beijing Haidian District Dongshen Village, of the New Hope Experimental School being torn down. Just 3 days away from the opening of a new semester, many parents instead discovered over 10 school buildings leveled. According to reports, this school’s contract had expired, and was demolished 5 days ago.

Comments on QQ:


Don’t even have a playground? What if there was an emergency situation? Where is the evacuation site? When there’s an earthquake, are you telling me they have to run to the roof?


A [government] leader visited a certain village for an inspection tour, and dinner was arranged at a herdsman’s home. When the leader politely invited the herdsman to enter first, the flattered herdsman said: “The leader should still go first. For us sheepherders, walking behind animals is something we’re used to.” The village head instructed the herdsman to bring a plate of the leader’s favorite lamb bones. The leader said as he gnawed/nibbled: “This taste great, just keep the meal simple, you don’t have to make it complicated [go through so much trouble]!” The herdsman quickly said: “No worries, it only costs a few cents, I normally feed these to the dogs.”


This breaks my heart, if the country’s officials were a little less corrupt, then these kids would not endure such hardship. I wonder when China’s education Chinese education change for the better in cities and in the countryside. The difference is too great. Sigh… [the situation] feels so helpless.


This is the product of China’s modernization, the result of corruption!


A special characteristic of the Heavenly Kingdom, just get used to it and you’ll be fine. The moment there is an earthquake, there is nowhere to run.


Our country’s education system is really TM trash. Teachers are unequal, and the situation of left-behind children, don’t tell me you ZF people don’t see it. Beijing is TM even more fucked up, for depriving a child of the right to go to school just because a temporary residence permit was a few days late.


Sigh, granted China’s population is too large, but for our future generations, no matter where the school is, no matter how much space there is, we should at least give the children space to play. Why does Chinese football [soccer] suck? It’s because there are no fields to practice on.


China will do anything for money, and education too has made making money as its bottom line. Though it is said that there is 9 years of free compulsory education, the books and other fees increase more and more each year.


A deformed society, one that has grown the economy, built skyscrapers, yet has left no space for the country’s future, where even a playground/sports field is a luxury.


In developed European and American countries, the grandest buildings are mainly churches, because it contains what they believe in: fraternity, liberty, equality; In Japan, the most lavish buildings are mainly its schools, because it contains what they believe in: knowledge, technology, and progress; In China, the grandest buildings are mainly government buildings and banks, because those contain what they believe in: money, power and arrogance.


Build less ghost cities, collect more real estate taxes, and none of this will happen to the children!


I was born in 1985, and when I was young, I also had to bring my own desk and chair to school. The whole class could only seat 20 students at the most, and apart from a tiny playground, we didn’t have any other sports equipment.


Nobody understands that this is China’s unique road to socialism, enriching the businessmen, fattening the officials, impoverishing the ordinary common people. The ordinary common people’s happiness only exist in Xinwen Lianbo.


I personally feel China only needs skyscrapers and total GDP. The rest isn’t important. The people driving luxury cars, living in mansions, and dating beautiful women are all illiterates, while those with actual knowledge and skills are all wage slaves and bachelors.


Why are government buildings never short of land?


I daresay that of all the kids who go to these schools in China, not one is the child of a of government official.


Today’s kids have it hard, endless amount of homework every day, like little birds locked in a cage when they go to school. Like in our Jinxian County elementary school, where every class has over 80 students, without a playground/sports field, without physical education or art and literature classes. When children’s innate liveliness and imaginations have been destroyed, how can they have creativity? In the future, they’ll just be mass-produced assembly line workers. What kind of education is this?


How many people in China cannot afford to go to school and get an education, yet we give billions in aid to Africa. In China, we use expensive shanzai products, while exporting the good products abroad at low prices. Is this the notion of a courteous nation? Is this socialism with Chinese characteristics?


Written by Joe

Joe is a documentary producer and journalist based in Shanghai


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