Organic yet modernistic – the new Learning Hub for the Nanjang Technological University designed by Thomas Heatherwick’s studio (and fabricated by CPG consultants), makes its ceremonious debut after more than two years in construction phase. Envisaged as an incredible architectural component of the Singaporean university’s campus redevelopment plan, the Learning Hub is all about catering to the traditional needs of colleges and classrooms in a rather unorthodox spatial manner. As a result, we see the a ‘conglomeration’ of 12 hive-like towers that eschew the familiar spaces of lengthy corridors – thus providing multipurpose zones for the university’s 33,000 students.
In other words, the unconventional structure espouses the casual scope of interaction between the student and the professor – a system which is rarely found in the hierarchical settings of most universities. This in turn alludes to an interesting social experiment that is tailored to (what is perceived as) contemporary methods of learning. To that end, the spatial organization of the Learning Hub comprises of a main central atrium that collectively connects to fifty-six tutorial rooms. This flexibility of volume and circulation allows the teachers to choose and ‘personalize’ their classrooms so as to provide a degree of closer interaction with their students. As Thomas Heatherwick makes it clear –
Heatherwick Studio’s first major new building in Asia has offered us an extraordinary opportunity to rethink the traditional university building. In the information age the most important commodity on a campus is social space to meet and bump into and learn from each other. The learning hub is a collection of handmade concrete towers surrounding a central space that brings everyone together, interspersed with nooks, balconies and gardens for informal collaborative learning. We are honored to have had the chance to work with this forward-thinking and ambitious academic institution to realize such an unusual project.
Now beyond spatial-oriented interactions, the Learning Hub is structurally an exhibition of modern engineering feat. To that end, on closer inspection, one can make out the protruding horizontal patterns on the curved surfaces that are made with adjustable silicone molds. These cost effective elements also endow a three-dimensional character at the micro-level, which gives an appearance of fabrication by hand – made from wet clay.
And lastly, the Learning Hub also boasts of natural ventilation system that complements its incredible form. This expansive ambit is fueled by the open atrium that is design for maximized cross-circulation air through the rising volumes. This turn minimizes the dependence on energy expending air-conditioning mechanisms (on a large scale), thus upholding the building’s low impact value.