Heatherwick's textured-tower university
building completes in Singapore

| 33 comments

Designer Thomas Heatherwick has completed a university building in Singapore made up of 12 towers that resemble giant parsnips (+ slideshow).

Learning Hub Nanyang Technological University by Heatherwick Studio

London-based Heatherwick Studio collaborated with local firm CPG Consultants on the Learning Hub, a new eight-storey teaching facility at Nanyang Technological University.



Learning Hub Nanyang Technological University by Heatherwick Studio

To avoid creating "miles of corridors linking box-like lecture rooms", the building was designed as a cluster of tapered towers surrounding an expansive atrium. The idea was to combine learning facilities with social spaces including balconies, gardens and open-air corridors, to encourage as many opportunities for staff and student interactions as possible.

Learning Hub Nanyang Technological University by Heatherwick Studio

"Heatherwick Studio's first major new building in Asia has offered us an extraordinary opportunity to rethink the traditional university building," explained Thomas Heatherwick.

Learning Hub Nanyang Technological University by Heatherwick Studio

"In the information age the most important commodity on a campus is social space to meet and bump into and learn from each other."

Learning Hub Nanyang Technological University by Heatherwick Studio

The 12 towers, which each taper inwards towards the base, accommodate a total of 56 oval classrooms. According to the designers, the non-hierarchal round shape – without any corners or obvious fronts or backs – will encourage more collaborative learning.

Learning Hub Nanyang Technological University by Heatherwick Studio

Clad with curved concrete panels, the towers feature irregular horizontal stripes that were created using 10 adjustable silicone moulds. This texture lends each tower the look of a root vegetable, although the designers liken the appearance with wet clay.

Learning Hub Nanyang Technological University by Heatherwick Studio

Balconies extend around the inside of the towers and get larger towards the top of the building, offering views into the atrium. This space is naturally ventilated, allowing air to circulate throughout.

Learning Hub Nanyang Technological University by Heatherwick Studio

"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," added Heatherwick.

Learning Hub Nanyang Technological University by Heatherwick Studio

The towers are raised off the ground on 61 angled concrete columns, each featuring an undulating surface texture, and small areas of planting surround many of them.

Learning Hub Nanyang Technological University by Heatherwick Studio

Meanwhile, the concrete walls surrounding the stair and elevator cores slotted between the towers have been embossed with over 700 drawings by illustrator Sara Fanelli, depicting images from science, art and literature.

Learning Hub Nanyang Technological University by Heatherwick Studio

"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," said NTU Professor Kam Chan Hin.

Learning Hub Nanyang Technological University by Heatherwick Studio

"By bringing people and their ideas together, NTU can spark future innovations and new knowledge that increasingly happen at the intersection of disciplines."

Learning Hub Nanyang Technological University by Heatherwick Studio

The project forms part of a wider campus redevelopment for Nanyang Technological University which, with over 33,000 students, is one of Singapore's largest public universities.

Learning Hub Nanyang Technological University by Heatherwick Studio

CPG Consultants led the construction of the project, while Heatherwick Studio was responsible for the design. Despite having trained as a product designer, Heatherwick has been taking on more and more architectural projects in recent years.



At the end of 2014 his studio completed a visitor facility for gin brand Bombay Sapphire, and is also currently working with Bjarke Ingels on the new California headquarters for Google.

Learning Hub Nanyang Technological University by Heatherwick Studio

In a 2012 interview with Dezeen's editor-in-chief Marcus Fairs, he claimed that he approaches all projects in the same way, whether he's working on a product, a vehicle or a building.

"I've never seen these as different disciplines," he said. "In general, we don't work in two dimensions. We're not flat."

Learning Hub Nanyang Technological University by Heatherwick Studio

Photography is by Hufton + Crow.


Project credits:

Client: Nanyang Technological University
Lead architect: CPG Consultants (project lead - Vivien Leong)
Design consultant: Heatherwick Studio (project architect - Ole Smith)
Main contractor: Newcon Builders
Sustainability consultants: CPG Consultants
Mechanical & electrical engineers: Bescon Consulting Engineers
Civil & structural engineers: TYLin International

Learning Hub Nanyang Technological University by Heatherwick Studio
Site plan – click for larger image
Learning Hub Nanyang Technological University by Heatherwick Studio
Level four plan – click for larger image
Learning Hub Nanyang Technological University by Heatherwick Studio
Level eight plan – click for larger image
  • Henry Ford

    That’s a one massive car in the ground floor plan :-)

    • spadestick

      Heatherwick’s Studio is used to putting V12 engined vehicles, possibly Maybachs or Rolls Royces in their drawings taken from their CAD libraries… Definitely not for the commoners.

  • SteveLeo

    Bleak and offensive.

    • spadestick

      Really? Have you seen the other buildings around the campus? Apparently not.

  • What’s up doc?

    It speaks volumes that we get a whole load of photos of the exterior and main interior space, and barely one of the actual study spaces.

    Look at the ceiling and the lack of daylight or view! It’s spectacular looking, and it’s a great idea to encourage interaction, BUT what’s it like to actually study in there? Pretty dismal by the brief glimpse of it…

  • Galicer

    It wouldn’t have made any harm to bring a bit more daylight in.

    • spadestick

      Yes, it would actually do much harm. In the steamy tropics, mid-day glare from the scorching sun is pretty much unwelcome.

      • WaxWing

        There are ways of mitigating solar gain while still retaining daylighting.

      • Galicer

        I said “a bit”. Not “open floor-to-ceiling Van der Rohe windows”. If it’s plain day and you’re using artificial lightning, you’re doing it wrong.

  • DL1119

    So, Brutalism is back now?

    • spadestick

      Sort of, considering this is also the main part of the campus below…

  • Joseph strawbridge

    Thinking outside the square. What a brilliant manipulation of internal and external space.

  • Soupdragon

    Who needs natural light?

    • davvid

      How will the distracted students day dream without a window to stare out of?

  • Alessandro Bava

    Luigi Moretti alert.

  • spadestick

    Announced in 19 July 2013 on Dezeen, and roughly less than 20 months to complete a “fairly” complex programme… I’d say that was fairly quick wouldn’t you?

    • Fax

      The hastiness shows, in concept and in execution.

      This is an educational facility, rather than considering the lighting, air movement, the quality of classrooms and creating a sound infrastructure to support the process, the designer seems more interested in achieving some whimsical form that he’s interested in.

  • Jute

    Makes me think more about lunch than sustainable living. It looks like a giant gyro loaf…

  • Ah Beng

    Coming from this part of the world (along the equator), I can tell you that we do not need to have more daylight or sunlight into the building.

    We have the blessing of constant scorching heat all year round. The solar gain would make the building inexplicably warm and un-sustainable.

    Sure there should be more views out of or into the structure. I think the interior is much more successful than the exterior, a cool shaded courtyard space to hang out and mingle.

    • Concerned Citizen

      I’ve been in dreary, windowless confines in Singapore, and I was ready to kill something. Daylight is always welcome.

      Yeah, it gets a little warm during the afternoon, but nothing the body can’t adjust to. They did for hundreds of years there. Even now, look at the Shangri-La hotel with its daylighting.

  • rob_g

    Texture 1, light 0.

  • beatrice

    Hideous. Not an architect obviously.

  • Camilla

    Very strong Torres Blancas feel to the central atrium spaces, pretty cool.

  • Oyster

    Amazing shape but the texture looks like cheap laminate floor.

  • Guest

    Are more designers hired for architecture than architects hired for design? Seems to be the former, or perhaps just one particular designer building everywhere.

    • Aaron

      Might that be a reflection on architects?

  • Guest

    Looks like a giant hornet’s nest…not exactly appealing or welcoming. I do agree that the interior is more successful than the exterior.

    As for bringing in more daylight or providing more views, it could have been done sustainably with brise-soleil.

  • WaxWing

    I wish this wasn’t the case because the intent and the form is quite nice, but the interior spaces are awful.

    Those spaces look dark and dated already. It doesn’t seem like a project that should have all-exposed ceilings.

    The mechanical coordination is messy, the lighting is harsh and artificial. It looks like the students are studying in a basement somewhere.

    • Schraubendreher

      What’s wrong with studying in a basement?

  • Goneboy

    Function follows form. Wonderful. It’s like a Disneyland building.

  • ScottLaRock

    I’m usually a big critic of this guy’s work, mostly because his projects seem too whimsical and gimmicky. However, in this instance I actually like it. He got lucky.

  • Abe Mohsin

    It reminds me of the expressionist architecture of Hans Scharoun or Gunter Behnisch, but with a far-eastern twist. I would love to visit and experience that inner-sanctum space. Looks really interesting.

  • Stephen Newman

    Ingenious. A self-shading building is exactly right for the climate. As for the debate regarding windows to classrooms I think the measure would be the reduction in artificial lighting requirements rather than a view out. More pin-up space and natural ventilation feels right to me.