NTU's $45m 'dim sum' hub creates a buzz

The design for NTU's new learning hub came out of a desire to do away with the "miles of corridors" that can make university buildings feel dead, says architect Thomas Heatherwick.

Students were already buzzing with talk over the new $45 million building at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) before its official unveiling yesterday.

The excited chatter has delighted its renowned British designer as the quirky layout - with its nooks and round, rather than square, tutorial rooms - is meant to foster more communication.

"I take it as a compliment," said Mr Thomas Heatherwick, whose many notable designs include the cauldron for the flame at the 2012 London Olympics.

The NTU building is composed of 12 towers - each eight storeys high - of stacked, rounded rooms leaning out of a base in a shared atrium below.

It has already been given the nickname "dim sum basket building", as it resembles the round wooden trays for Chinese snacks.

When students return to school in August, they can look forward to state-of-the-art classrooms and a new teaching style.

The new learning hub was designed to support the newly adopted "flipped classroom" teaching method: Students watch lectures online and class time is used to delve deeper into the topic.

The approach is already in use by students in NTU's renaissance engineering and medicine programmes, and will be rolled out progressively for students in the rest of the university.

"The teaching pedagogy is very much driven by collaborative learning now," said Associate Professor Kam Chan Hin, the senior associate provost in charge of undergraduate education.

"So (the students) learn from their peers and also from the rest of the class."

Each of the 56 new-generation, "smart" classrooms comes equipped with flexible clustered seating, electronic white boards, multiple LCD screens and wireless communication tools.

Mr Heatherwick, who also designed the British pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo in 2010, said the design came out of a desire to do away with the "miles of corridors" that can make university buildings feel dead.

The atrium and building nooks will also offer space for students to socialise and exchange ideas without being swept along by the crowds.

Though the new building is not in use yet, students are already excited.

"The learning experience is different from the traditional one," said first-year renaissance engineering student Rachel Tan, 20.

Business undergraduate Silvia Setiawan, 22, said: "It's good because there are not enough study rooms in other buildings, especially during the exam period."

The learning hub is part of NTU's $700 million effort to transform the campus.



This article was first published on March 11, 2015.
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