Learning Hub (The Hive) – Nanyang Technological University
An advanced educational hub by top UK architect Heatherwick Studio, it will support NTU’s ambitions in pushing the frontiers of innovation in learning and sustainable building design. The eight-storey building is envisioned to be a place where students might meet their future business partner or conceive an amazing idea with a university mate. Heatherwick Studio was appointed to design the building following an international competition for best design concept in 2011.
Its 56 new-generation smart classrooms are fully equipped for collaborative learning and student interaction which is the hallmark of NTU Education, the university’s blueprint for preparing students with skills needed in the 21st century workplace.
The hub’s form is dictated by its function, and brings together 56 tutorial rooms into a structure without conventional corridors, which have traditionally created social separation and isolation. The learning hub is porous- students can enter from 360 degrees around into a large central space which links all the separate towers together. Each tower is made up of a stack of classrooms which build up gradually, with gardens on selected floors.
Another inspiration for the hub was a wish to break down the traditional square forward-facing classrooms with a clear front and hierarchy, and move to a corner-less space, where teachers and students mix on a more equal basis.
In this model, students work together around shared tables, with teacher as facilitator and partner in the voyage of learning, rather than ‘master’ executing a top-down model of pedagogy.
Each of these tutorial rooms faces the large shared central space, allowing students to continually feel connected to all the other activities going on in the building.
In 2013 the learning hub was awarded the BCA Green Mark Platinum Award for sustainability by the Singaporean government. The award is a benchmarking scheme which incorporates internationally recognized best practices in environmental design and performance.
Heatherwick studio won a competition to design a Learning Hub for a university in Singapore. The hub, completed in March of 2015, is part of a £360 million scheme by Nanyang Technological University, and is the first redevelopment of its campus in twenty years.
It was clear to us that since the advent of the internet and low cost computers that there has been a distinct shift in how students approach educational facilities. University buildings have ceased to be the only site where students are able to source educational texts, and have become unappealing spaces with endless corridors, no natural daylight and only hints of other people’s presence.
The studio’s approach was to redefine the aspiration of a university building, and to once again make it an essential part of the tertiary education experience. Within this new context the purpose of a university is to foster togetherness and sociability, so that students can meet their fellow entrepreneurs, scientists or colleagues in a space that encourages collaboration.
The Learning Hub at Nanyang Technological University (NTU Singapore), designed by Heatherwick Studio and executed by lead architect CPG Consultants, is a new educational landmark for Singapore. As part of NTU’s redevelopment plan for the campus, the Learning Hub is designed to be a new multi-use building for its 33,000 students.
Instead of the traditional format of an educational building with miles of corridors linking box-like lecture rooms, the university asked for a unique design better suited to contemporary ways of learning. With the digital revolution allowing learning to take place almost anywhere, the most important function of this new university building was to be a place where students and professors from various disciplines could meet and interact with one other. The Learning Hub is envisioned to be a place where students might meet their future business partner or someone they would have an amazing idea with.
The outcome is a structure that interweaves both social and learning spaces to create a dynamic environment more conducive to casual and incidental interaction between students and professors. Twelve towers, each a stack of rounded tutorial rooms, taper inwards at their base around a generous public central atrium to provide fifty-six tutorial rooms without corners or obvious fronts or backs. The new-generation smart classrooms were conceived by NTU to support its new learning pedagogies that promote more interactive small group teaching and active learning. The flexible format of the rooms allows professors to configure them to better engage their students, and for students to more easily collaborate with each other.
The rooms in turn open onto the shared circulation space around the atrium, interspersed with open spaces and informal garden terraces, allowing students to be visually connected while also leaving space to linger, gather and pause. NTU Professor Kam Chan Hin, Senior Associate Provost (Undergraduate Education) says, “The new Learning Hub provides an exciting mix of learning, community and recreational spaces for NTU students, professors and researchers from various disciplines to gather and interact. By bringing people and their ideas together, NTU can spark future innovations and new knowledge that increasingly happen at the intersection of disciplines.”
Founder and Principal Thomas Heatherwick, Heatherwick Studio says, “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 honoured to have had the chance to work with this forward-thinking and ambitious academic institution to realise such an unusual project.”
Project lead Vivien Leong of CPG Consultants, the Lead Architect and Sustainability Consultants for the Learning Hub, says, “The most exciting aspect of this project is to see such an inspired design develop into a uniquely contextual and functional building through a highly collaborative process. Managing this project was no mean feat as we had… …to ensure that our work complied with Singapore’s rigorous building regulations and that it achieved the highest standards of sustainability, while working hard to retain the integrity of the original design and vision of NTU . The opportunity to challenge convention by introducing several first-of-its-kind environmentally friendly features and innovative solutions that embody the spirit of modern day learning has been a truly rewarding experience for us.” The combination of local building codes and high environmental aspirations meant that a concrete construction was necessary. The primary design challenge was how to make this humble material feel beautiful.
As a result, the concrete stair and elevator cores have been embedded with 700 specially commissioned drawings, three-dimensionally cast into the concrete, referencing everything from science to art and literature. Overlapping images, specially commissioned from illustrator Sara Fanelli, are deliberately ambiguous thought triggers, designed to leave space for the imagination. The sixty one angled concrete columns have a distinctive undulating texture developed specially for the project. The curved facade panels are cast with a unique horizontal pattern, made with ten cost-efficient adjustable silicone moulds, to create a complex three-dimensional texture. The result of the building’s various raw treatments of concrete is that the whole project appears to have been handmade from wet clay.
With year-round temperatures in Singapore between 25°C and 31°C it was important to maintain the students’ comfort whilst achieving a sustainable energy usage.
The building’s open and permeable atrium is naturally ventilated, maximising air circulation around the towers of tutorial rooms and allowing students to feel as cool as possible. Each room is cooled using silent convection, which does away with the need for energy-heavy air conditioning fans. The Learning Hub building was awarded Green Mark Platinum status by the Building and Construction Authority (BCA), Singapore, the highest possible environmental standard for a building of this type.
In a digital age when many students have multiple communication devices and ready access to knowledge, the Learning Hub reasserts the role of an educational building in the 21st century. No longer a place for traditional classroom teaching to passive students, NTU’s new icon provides space for collaborative learning in a technology-rich setting. Opened till late, it will be a place for students to gather, where knowledge is shared, collaboration between disciplines takes place and where future leaders are nurtured.
Project name: Nanyang Technological University Learning Hub (The Hive)
Location: Nanyang Technological University, 50 Nanyang Ave, Singapore 639798
Coordinates: 1.343170, 103.682751
Building Height: 8 storeys (33.6 m)
Project Area: 14,000 sqm
Site Area: 2,000 sqm
Construction Start: August 2012
Completion Year: March 2015
Client / Owner / Developer: Nanyang Technological University
Architects: Heatherwick Studio – 356-364 Gray’s Inn Road, London WC1X 8BH, United Kingdom
Design Consultant: Heatherwick Studio – Project Lead – Ole Smith
Lead Architect: CPG Consultants – Project Lead – Vivien Leong
Main Contractor: Newcon Builders
- Mechanical & Electrical Engineers: Bescon Consulting Engineers
- Structural Engineer: t.y. lin international Pte ltd
- Civil & Structural Engineers: TYLin International
- Sustainabilty Consultants: CPG Consultants
- Quantity Surveyor: davis langdon KPK (singapore) Pte ltd
- ESD Consultant: CPgreen – CPg Consultants Pte ltd
- PDV Consultant: ME(TCS) Consulting Engineers
- Fire Consultant: LKH Fire Engineering Pte ltd
- Landscape Consultant: Perfect sense
- Acoustic Consultant: CCW associates Pte ltd
Text Description: © Courtesy of Heatherwick Studio, Nanyang Technological University
Images: © Heatherwick Studio, Hufton + Crow, flickr-xxtreme942, flickr-parenthetical.pilgrim