The establishment of academic institutions has often been a reflection of how far a society has progressed. These learning spaces serve to inspire not only the students and various faculties but also individuals in the larger context. Just as we view the existence of skyscrapers as the modern-day image of urbanity, the creation of this unconventional institution reflects the changing model of learning and a new generation of students. In the dynamic 21st century world, international collaborations have steadily become a reality for any field, and it is this spirit that the architecture of Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) ultimately embodies – a network of articulated spaces that promotes interaction and dynamism among its diverse users. It is an architectural translation of the connectivity the world is experiencing today. It was thus poetically fitting for DP Architects to work together with Amsterdam-based architecture firm UNStudio as equal partners in the entire design process.
Since the conceptual stage, the axis that defines the entire development has allowed the campus to have an integrative spatial quality. From the exterior, the campus appears to comprise various blocks for many faculties and developments; however, when one enters the building, there is a sense of harmony and seamless spatial connectivity that is achieved through ‘non-linear’ structures. Unlike most tertiary institutions, the architecture of SUTD moves away from conventional and traditional forms by having different spaces organised around a north-to-south and an east-to-west axis. This intentionally creates a nexus where students and faculty members are encouraged to interact, fostering better communication and a fertile collaborative environment.
Collaboration: The Germination of Innovation
The campus centre is a multi-purpose space that is adaptive and flexible to suit an ever-evolving academic environment. The architects also planned for the area to be a place where exhibitions and other extracurricular events can be held. The design of this space anticipates a learning environment that espouses collaboration, the cornerstone of a progressive education, especially essential to a design institution.
Interestingly, the design development of the campus centre served up many incidental learning opportunities for the architects, anchoring the end product in the same spirit of organic collaboration, adaptation and innovation. There was an instance where, despite several rounds of coordination, the combined services drawings for the campus centre were unable to fully achieve the intended ceiling heights for this key nodal space. The ceiling had to be lowered locally to relieve congestion of the M&E services within. DP Architects convinced design partner UNStudio to embrace this as an opportunity to enhance the sculptural quality of the campus centre ceiling design.
These localised ceiling drops were then articulated as stepped transitions, making the ceiling plane more undulating and adding a unique cavernous feel to the space. The team felt that the ceiling designs became much better due to the need for partially lowered ceilings. By reframing their perspectives on the situation, viewing the lowering of the ceiling as an opportunity to improve rather than a drawback, resolutions were achieved. The designers were able to maintain their original design intent, the contractor received a design that could be executed in a timely manner, and the client received a unique and well-designed product.
This axial point, seemingly the heart of the institution, is connected with a myriad of corridors at the ground and upper levels. To the imagination, the circulation becomes beautiful and functionally organic. These corridors link to important spaces within the campus such as the main library, the auditorium and the International Design Centre (IDC). The IDC is a hub for technology-driven research and it has been designed to capture the essence of a contemporary design institution – one that is open, porous in the sharing of ideas and dynamic in its collaboration.
The various classrooms, research spaces and laboratories are strategically located across the campus. Individually, they have an almost nodal and intermittent quality amid the whole articulation of corridors and important spaces.
A sense of transparency and openness has also been successfully created by the architects so that it allows the user to experience the campus in its entirety. This visual dialogue is brought about through the introduction of corridors that are framed with the assistance of horizontal strips that forms the elevation of the campus. The verticality and horizontality of the pathway circulation is expressed by the placement of staircases.
Sustainable Design: The Germination of Green Education
Both DP Architects and UNStudio were conscious in responding to an equatorial climate. The architecture has natural ventilation, given the porosity of corridors and open spaces. The linkages and various walkways are sheltered, providing protection during heavy rainfall. Louvred sunshades across the windows shield the rooms and interior spaces from direct sunlight and, at the same time, allow the natural filtration of daylighting. The flow of light throughout the day, cast on the walls, adds a tonal effect within the interiors. In terms of landscaping, native trees and flowering plants have been added to celebrate the tropical environment the academic institution is in. The progression of these landscaping strategies and greenery culminate in the placement of roof gardens and terraces at various blocks in the campus.
SUTD embodies a paradigm shift in the design of academic institutions. It is an architectural showpiece befitting a time of limitless possibilities, aided by connectivity and technology. It is a testament to the dedication and commitment of a successful collaboration; and the result speaks for itself through the seamless articulation of spaces and corridors that connect people, places and ideas.