Thursday, 3 May 2012

National University of Singapore – UTown

Town Green, NUS UTown

UTown is a new campus for the National University of Singapore (NUS) and opened it’s doors to Students a the start of this academic year in August 2011.

It is located close to the NUS main campus, and although separated by a large trunk road, both campuses are joined via a vehicle and pedestrian bridge.

UTown has been developed to create a new educational hub that includes teaching facilities, study facilities and residences, for both UG and PG students.  It is home to a resident population from over 60 countries and is based in some measure on the collegiate style of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge in the UK.

Although much accommodation is still under construction, UTown has already established itself as a lively intellectual, social and cultural environment that puts excellence in teaching and learning at its heart.

View from the Education Resource Centre across the Town Green
My meeting was scheduled to start at the Educational Resource Centre, located at the heart of the campus and which is the place for students to interact, have access to a wide range of technology including a high level of support in using that technology, and spaces to collaborate.

The Education Resource Centre
The Education Resource Centre (ERC) operates on a 24/7 basis during term time

It is a completely revolutionary concept for the University, as all other learning and teaching spaces for students are held and managed by individual schools and faculties.  This is the first opportunity to create a pool of centrally managed spaces, equipped to a common standard and delivering new standards of support to the students and staff.

As I arrived quite early for the meeting, I started to explore and soon found the “Learning Café” which was open and serving coffee.

External area of Learning Cafe
The Learning Café consists of 2 areas, a large covered external area and a more traditional café with a Starbucks outlet serving the usual range of drinks and snacks.

Although it was still quite early, a number of staff and students were using both areas.

Learning Cafe, view of outlet
Learning Cafe
Although there were some MACs provided in the space, most people were using their own devices, plenty of power had been provided for this purpose.

Power for mobile devices
A familiar scenario with floor boxes
I was delighted to find that my host is a graduate of Aston University, and knows Birmingham very well.

My host is the Director of the Centre for Instructional Technology, which includes all aspects of IT Services.  The Audio Visual function is part of the Centre, but is kept as a separate and distinct team, providing key AV services to the ERC and it’s facilities.  We were joined by the AV Manager, (who I noted has a BA in TV & Film).

The ERC is a really interesting design, and I found that we were traveling through internal and external spaces almost seamlessly.  Everywhere is covered, to protect people from the rain, but a room would lead to a balcony and back to a room again.

External space
We started the tour by looking at the Auditorium,

This is a 200 seat lecture theatre which has been built using recycled wood for the internal walls, the design and construction of UTown has been undertaken to be as environmental friendly as possible as is reported to be the University's "greenest building".

Lecture theatre with recycled wood for improved sound proofing
Power to every seat
This room has 3 projectors, for dual projection and for when in use as a theatre for video screening.

The glass writing wall at the front of the room has an interesting dual purpose,

Two of the panels can slide out of the way to expose windows which open up the room to the corridor outside.

Balcony and corridor for functions and events
However, staff and students find that even with the lights down, there is too much reflection on the glass to make them really usable for any length of time, and so a mobile whiteboard has been brought into the theatre for use as required

Mobile whiteboard agains detail of wood finish
The design of the building has had to accommodate 3 very old trees which were included at the centre of the building, unfortunately, during construction, one of the trees was then struck by lightening and lost despite the care taken by the design team.

Protected trees accommodated in the design
Surrounding the trees are various areas for sitting and working

Granite table and stools with integrated power
External Amphitheatre 
The Study

The wirelessly enabled study consists of a large number of individual study and research spaces in a quieter environment than those of the social and collaborative spaces.

This is the final week of examinations for these students, so we had to make as little noise as possible in this extremely quiet study room,

Study carrels
The study carrels were a very nice design and not only had plenty of space for students to work with a range of resources, but had power for devises and individual light switches

Alternative furniture
A range of spaces and furniture is available to suit most student’s needs

Comfy furniture, not in use at this time, but usually popular
View from the study to the learning space outside

Learning Corridors

The external spaces are all set up for social interaction and study and are called “learning corridors”.  Their purpose is to ensure that seamless collaboration can be undertaken anywhere in the ERC with access to power, wireless network, mobile whiteboards, and in some areas, “quick access “PC’s

One of the Learning Corridors
The columns provide both lighting and access to power

Power embedded in column
This space is open on 2 sides, but PCs and printers located here

This outside space can be used not only by groups
of students but also by teachers leading classes
This external classroom also includes a fixed white board for active discussions, and is outside the PC Commons

The Computing Commons

The Education Resource Centre has two Computing Commons.  One with PC and one with Macintosh  computers, both of which are all open to NUS Students 24/7.

Each of these spaces has it’s own unique and distinct designs, both include a range of breakout spaces and study rooms.

PC Commons

View from the external classroom
PC Commons
The PC Commons is housed in a very large space with generous space to enable students to reconfigure loose furniture to suit them.

The equipment in the project rooms include
touch screen technology
Other than the project rooms around the internal edge of the room, there are no permanent partitions to divide the space.  Rather, extremely nice and interesting structures have been created to provide semi-private collaborative working spaces.

Collaborative rooms inside the "Birdcages"
507 table with whiteboard surface for group working, not area in centre for pens and board rubber

MAC Commons

The MAC Commons also combines project rooms, generous spaces to work and movable furniture.

Three leaf clover shaped tables with 6 MACs
with view of the project rooms

Range of furniture
Mobile equipment for presentation
Again, a range of collaborative pods have been provided using free standing screens.

Movable furniture taken to the comfy window seating.
Also shows more views of the outside
In addition to the project rooms and equipment available for students, there are also Video Conference codecs and visualisers available for loan from the “XChange” 

The XChange is the on site office where NUS IT Care support is provided for the whole of UTown.  The IT Helpdesk is staffed during “normal” working hours and is located at the entrance of  a suite of facilities to provide students with access to develop their multimedia and video projects in a professional setting.

The Suite includes a Presentation space that doubles up as a Video Recording studio and a 45 seat Viewing theatre.  It is easily convertible as it has a bank of  retractable seating. 

Retractable seating in the Presentation Room
The presentation space is supported by an adjoining Visualisation Suite for audio-video post production and documentation services. 
Presentation Studio
For Students who want to prepare for presentations, do voice overs etc. there are two recording booths equipped with video, audio and teleprompter recording facilities.

The staff in the XChange provide training and support to students using the facilities.

Only one picture of the presentation suite from the web!


There are a number of classrooms located at the ERC and fall into three main categories:

The Global Learning Seminar Room:  A space we couldn’t enter as it was being prepared for an examination, but one which has been set up as a highly interactive room to facilitate lectures not only between the various NUS sites, but also with other sites overseas.  It is equipped with wireless microphones, mobile furniture and dual projection systems

The Active Learning Seminar Room: A technology enhanced seminar rooms set up to support project and enquiry based group discussion and class presentations.

Collaborative Group workstations
although technology rich, these rooms can also be used without technology.

The screens are motorised and can be located in the
desk when not required
Staff, located in the centre of the room,

Teacher located in the centre of the room
 … are able to take presentations from the group’s LCD screens and display to the rest of the class o the large projection screen for class discussion

Basic Seminar Rooms:  although described as basic, all of these room have full presention systems with a PC and data projector  The furniture is movable to allow the staff to change the layouts to suit their style of teaching, and this alone is new and inovative for teaching at NUS

Teachers station, not a formal lectern

Reconfigurable furniture and a whole wall for writing

Other movable furniture, the large LCD screen is provided as a
confidence monitor for the teacher.

Crestron equipment control
There are also two “Learning Node Seminar Room” using the Node chairs from Steelcase (which some of us are now starting to experiment with)

Node chairs
This seating enables the layout to avoid the ubiquitous column!

These chairs also give staff a range of options for layouts to suit both teaching and group discussions.

There is just so much to see and talk about on this new campus, that I can’t cover it all, but there is one last, innovative feature that I want to share.

Teaching staff at UTown are often moving between campuses to teach, so in recognition of this, a new “Faculty Lounge” has been created.

This is a dedicated space for staff to use between lectures and includes comfortable seating, space to interact with colleagues, a kitchen and space to use computers.

Whiteboard, kitchen and printing facilities for staff

Furniture to relax in 

Locker space for personal belongings
At the end of this tour, I was taken to visit the Main Library on the main campus, followed by a trip to the beautiful heritage building in town which is the home of the Law Faculty, these are stories for another day.

The Law Faculty


  1. They have got the node chairs!!!!

    I love it....from all the places you have visited this my favourite!!! Fantastic....10 points for Singapore!

    x Maria

  2. Hi Maria, it is pretty special, and so much more to share with you when I get home!!


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