It’s the in-between spaces that matter

25 Sep 2014

The Singapore Polytechnic's new Design School building opened on 9 September 2014.  Tan Choon Shian, Principal and CEO of the Singapore Polytechnic said it was like "home coming" for the students. At the opening, the school came alive as a living canvas with 13 exhibitions throughout the building. Former student Interior Designer, Omar Shiddiq is excited about the refreshing design and engaging spaces of the school, commenting that it “evokes an atmosphere of learning” in his blog, Journal for Architecture. RSP Design Director, Tay Eng Khoon and RSP Senior Architect Brennan Chan talk about the inspiration behind the design and designing schools for the future. 

1. What was your inspiration for the design?

Brennan: We were inspired by the school’s surroundings, especially the four mature ficus trees on site, which had to be retained. The trees are beautiful and majestic, giving the site a very special quality. Thus, we extended the imagery of the trees to the four schools within the building, to reflect tree houses. The four schools were brought together through interconnected spaces to create an integrated, holistic learning experience.

Eng Khoon: Our starting point was also about understanding and reflecting the pedagogy of the school and translating this into practical spatial planning and interpreting this to creating a distinct identity and character for the school’s architecture. 

2. Tell us more about the site context and challenges.

Brennan: The site is quite hilly and undulating. We used elements like ramps and staircases to mitigate the change in levels. These have become delightful spaces for the students to mingle and enjoy creative exchanges. The site was also surrounded by the workshop blocks and the existing T3 building. It was a challenging site to begin with. We considered how we could make the small site feel like it is much larger in perspective.

Eng Khoon: The building design also intentionally connected the eastern side gate to the main circulation spine of the whole Singapore Polytechnic campus for a seamless pedestrian flow throughout. A new cafeteria was designed along this public street with timber deck al-fresco dining area under the four ficus trees, providing an ideal place for students to chill out in this design enclave of the campus.

3. How does the design of the school support and encourage learning?

Eng Khoon: We designed the studio spaces to be very flexible. This gives students greater freedom to experiment and express themselves creatively. Spaces outside and around were also designed to be interconnected and inviting. We believe that learning does not need to take place in classrooms or in this case, studios, but can spill over along corridors, rooftops and in-between spaces. Some of these spaces are adorned with art installations by the students themselves. This creates a kind of living canvas, enabling students to take greater pride in their work and be inspired by each other’s works.

4. How do you envision designing for schools of the future?

Eng Khoon: The pedagogy of the school will be an important consideration in designing schools for the future. There will be a greater emphasis on providing flexible spaces. Outdoor spaces should ideally be conducive and interactive for learning. In fact, we could be moving towards more “room-less” kind of learning environment, one that is fully integrated and holistic, with a live, work, play setting. This will create a stronger sense of belonging for students.

Brennan: The in-between spaces - breakout spaces, negatives spaces - for schools are really important for schools’ designs. We often tend to forget about such spaces. But if taken into consideration and designed well, these spill-over spaces inevitably offer the school alternative creative and exciting learning platforms for students and staff.

For more on the school's design, read Indesignlive's story.