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WORLD

Shanghai skyline's splash of color

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CELAP's "red table" -- in Chinese culture the red table is where the master sits.

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SHANGHAI, China (CNN) -- China is changing rapidly -- and nowhere faster than in the skyline of Shanghai.

The city at the mouth of the Yangtze may be the birthplace of the Chinese Communist Party, but these days it is big business that is driving economic growth, as epitomized by the Pudong district's ever-expanding cluster of skyscrapers.

Pudong's latest architectural addition is the China Executive Leadership Academy, Pudong (CELAP), which opened in January.

While it may lack the imposing stature of the 88-storey Jin Mao Tower, the sprawling 40-hectare campus -- like the institution it houses -- is the perfect fusion of China's past, present and future.

The school looks like a business school, but its students consist of Communist Party trainees. And while the site has the feel of a modern business school, its Paris-based architects Anthony Bechu and Tom Sheehan say the design is inspired by the traditional Chinese association with the color red and by elements of Confucianism.

Bechu says: "The line where we put all the university is like the thinking of Confucius. The pupils, the students find the master and follow the master on the line and it was a red line on the landscape too. Because red is the most important color in the mind of the China. It's happiness, it's the flag, it's the revolution, but also it's the structure of the old building of the empire of China.

Sheenan says the low lines of the campus are in direct contrast to the excesses of Shanghai's skyline.

"It's a city that's measured by its vertical dimension," he says. "Our desire was to make a new urbanism on the site and to add an horizontal dimension to the city. The big idea here was to make a counterpoint to these high rise buildings."

In Chinese culture the red table is where the master teaches the student -- something reflected in the architecture of the main building, which features a bright red overhanging roof.

"It's a big table you know because it is a painting table. In China it's a place where the teacher gives all the knowledge and also the harmony and design and things. The painting table becomes the university, " explains Bechu.

Bechu and Sheehan have embedded their design within the beauty of the natural surroundings. A lake, gardens and 27,000 trees bring a harmony to the campus that is at odds with its metropolitan surroundings.

"The red table symbolizes the government and the nation, the national dimension. It's covering what is the institution," says Sheenan.

"But outside of that box there's this other world which belongs to the people. It's also a campus where the students and faculty are meant to amuse themselves and have some real, relaxing, un-intellectual time in the garden."

Bechu says the campus retains a distinctly Chinese character while also reflecting the expanding horizons of the new Shanghai.

"Pudong is the town of the 21st century and the building we have done is a 21st century building to open the mind," he says. "It's not a building for architecture for everywhere. It's architecture for China."

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