The Hive Learning Hub


Hufton + Crow

Heatherwick Studio’s Hive Learning Hub, a new multi-use building for Singapore’s NTU, responds to the transforming role of the university campus in the 21st century.

Af Nina Tory-Henderson

The ways in which students use and access educational facilities and information have drastically changed in a short period of time, leaving many university campuses struggling to keep pace with contemporary modes of learning. When entire degrees are now completed online, the campus is no longer the primary site for educational resources. A shift is needed in the way we design universities to reassess the critical resources the campus can provide today.

The Learning Hub at Singapore’s National Technical University (NTU) embraces this shift, recognizing the most important asset of the campus in the information age: social space. The new mixed-use building provides spaces for students to gather informally, encouraging social encounters and interaction across disciplines. The design challenges traditional university environments of ‘miles of corridors linking box-like lecture rooms’  which can be socially isolating, individualistic learning environments.

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.
— Professor Kam Chan Hin, NTU Singapore

Heatherwick Studio embraced the client’s innovative ambitions for the building, a successful synthesis with the studio’s exploratory design process. “At the heart of the studio’s work is a profound commitment to finding innovative design solutions… This is achieved through a working methodology of collaborative rational inquiry, undertaken in a spirit of curiosity and experimentation.”

The 12 towers are made up of stacked classrooms, designed to blur the hierarchy between teacher and student divisions. There is no discernible front and back of the room, encouraging a more interactive environment that disintegrates the top-down model of pedagogy. The classroom spaces are interwoven with intimate nooks, plant-filled balconies and large circulation areas that act as social gathering spaces and are seen as equally important informal learning environments.

The central open atrium not only acts as a visual connector between classrooms, circulation core and gathering space but also naturally ventilates the building — an important climatic strategy in a region with year-round temperatures of 25–31 degrees Celsius. Among other sustainability strategies, this passive ventilation approach helped the project earn its Green Mark Platinum status, the highest possible environmental standard for a building of this type.

Local building codes dictated a robust concrete structure for the building. Heatherwick Studio’s dedication to craftsmanship and material potentials reveals itself in the sensitive treatment of this structure. Each circulation core has illustrations by artist Sara Fanelli cast into its concrete walls. The structural columns have been treated with a distinct undulating texture and the facade with a horizontal striped pattern, both developed specifically for the project. The custom treatment of the concrete adds a layer of tactility to the project, the entire building appearing to be ‘handmade from wet clay’.