2017—Mandarin Immersion Magnet School

Houston ISD—Mandarin Immersion Magnet School
Architect: PBK

This NextGen school supports a 100% dual language magnet program that enables students to participate in rigorous core academic programs that encourage learning by real world work experiences. 50% of a student’s instructional day is spent in Mandarin, while the other 50% is spent in an English. The program effectively immerses each student in a culture-rich environment that allows them to become balanced bi-cultural and bi-literate citizens well prepared for an ever growing global economy.


Design is inspired by the Chinese character for Ming, meaning “bright future” and composed of two Chinese characters – sun and moon. The academic wing represents the sun which, at its core, showcases a light-filled, 3-story learning commons. Its form provides uniquely shaped flex and collaboration spaces to support blended learning models (digital-physical). The community wing, the moon, supports student and community functions through a glassy facade that reflects the energy of the site.


Campus utilizes smart systems (BAS), is a LEED-Silver candidate, and employs many energy-saving techniques. A moveable wall divides the dining area from the gym and can be removed to accommodate large events. Value-added elements were paired with aesthetics, including floor choices and acoustic-absorbing wall maps. An extremely compact floorplan, paired with sharing a playground, parking and detention with a neighboring school, helped dramatically reduce costs.


The school is a LEED Silver candidate. Even though it bid during a peak construction period, the dedication to sustainability was maintained. The design team worked with the local community to reduce environmental impact – even employing an urban forester and taking pains to not disturb a favorite neighborhood tree. The design also prioritizes abundant natural light – even in stairwells and corridors. It also employs smart building systems.

CommunityCommunity—Star of Distinction

The design was customized through a collaborative process with each school and its Project Advisory Team, as well as members of the surrounding community. The project team worked closely with the neighborhood HOA to ensure end-users’ expectations were met. The campus is an integral part of the community and hosts many events. The design honors Chinese culture, but also the community, style and character. A parent of a student actually painted the Chinese calligraphy in the reception area.

PlanningPlanning—Star of Distinction

The concept was conceived in a design charrette with district administration, school faculty, and the project advisory team. The design is specifically tailored to support the function of the curriculum and circulation of a pre-K thru 8 operation. The Ming concept was actually discovered during the first charrette meeting. From there, the design evolved through several iterations until a ubiquitous synergy was created between school and community.

School Transformation

The flexible, collaborative design is intended to compliment the campus’s revolutionary curriculum. Maker spaces, tech, library and flex spaces are all designed around the specifics of the immersion program. Further, the character is reflected in the design of the building, as well as the interior graphics and flow. The result is a unique learning environment that works with and enhances the curriculum.

Stars of Distinction Star of Distinction Category Winner