“Is this a building?” the taxi driver asked

NTU Learning Hub (CREDIT: Fabian Ong)

Feature Image: Fabian Ong

NTU Learning Hub 
By Ng Nay Ling

“Is this a building?” was the taxi driver’s question when I pointed to the then under-construction Learning Hub and told him to drop me off at the ‘building’. Admittedly, his confusion might be partly due to the fact that it was still work-in-progress and halfway through its façade panel installation. Yet, even with the completion of the Learning Hub now, its conspicuous form continues to inspire awe in some while drawing scepticism from others.

It remains to be seen whether the Learning Hub will live up to its promise in terms of serving its functional needs. However, to the team at CPG who oversaw the project to completion, the Learning Hub is already an architectural success. Thanks to its unusual form, choice of material and architectural detailing, the Learning Hub has pushed past many construction limits with its innovative approach.

“Unique building design leads to a unique solution & approach.” – Renee Santos Atayan, CPG Consultants.

First there was the structure. The floor slabs extended outwards as the building height increased to provide self-shading for the lower floors. There are no beams to support the cantilever; instead columns slant to form arcs that effectively transfer the load down.

Columns are not just columns and walls are not just walls in this project. The structural elements are animated with bumps and comics, a bit like the reliefs on the shophouse façade. Unlike the shophouse, where the reliefs are made of plaster as a superficial element, here they are cast integral to the concrete element. Needless to say it was very challenging to get the desired effect of the motifs on the concrete. Form liner made of rubber was used to line the formwork to create the 3D patterns. To produce the form liner, a mold imprinted with the pattern had to be made. The team experimented with different resolutions for the mold and different concrete mixes for the colour and texture. It took 7 months to get it right and to finally be able to cast the first storey core walls.

A material used extensively in this project was phosphor bronze. It is a simple enough material, mostly bronze with a bit of phosphor for added strength. The problem was that it was not commonly used in the construction industry. The contractor was not able to procure any extrusion to follow the design intent of the framing for the full-height mesh; neither were they able to weld the alloy. We could only have them in flat bars with dry joints. After months of discussions and alternative proposals from the contractor that considered copper, painted mild steel, anodized aluminium, and even brass, the consultants finally agreed on a composite framing in steel and phosphor bronze, which was both ‘constructable’ and achieved the original design intent.

Then there was the precast façade panel. It took many months to get the colour, pigment and aggregate mix right. When they were finally delivered to the site and hoisted to their respective positions, we held our breath hoping that they would all fit in nicely with the slab edge, given the different curvatures of each pod.

At the end of our combined hard work & efforts, we are finally seeing the fruit of our labour………….and it’s outstanding!” – Samuel Tan, CPG Consultants.

As the Architect for the project, we were tasked with the enormous challenge of executing the project to meet its lofty design aspirations, yet meeting NTU’s timeline and budget. We were fortunate to have the support of NTU, whom together with the consultants, spent much time and effort to bring the design into reality. In the end we are satisfied that we managed to protect the integrity and quality of the design against the constraints of construction, cost and time.♦

“Without creativity the world would be a boring place. It’s a miracle that imagination is not stifled by formal learning.” – Lo Sie Meng, CPG Consultants.

NTU Learning Hub_CREDIT_Fabian Ong

NTU Learning Hub (CREDIT: Fabian Ong)

NTU Learning Hub_CREDIT_Fabian Ong

NTU Learning Hub (CREDIT: Fabian Ong)

A building where structural elements are given as much attention

A building where structural elements are given as much attention as architectural elements

Protection of cast concrete elements was paramount as there woul

Protection of cast concrete elements was paramount as there would not be any finish applied onto them

Mock-up of column (formwork on the left)

Mock-up of column (formwork on the left)

Formwork lined with formliner for columns

Formwork lined with formliner for columns

Rubber formliner

Rubber formliner

First columns cast with much too distinct bulges

First columns cast with much too distinct bulges

Slanted rebar for columns

Slanted rebar for columns

Design consultant Heatherwick Studio with Main contractor Newcon

Design consultant Heatherwick Studio with Main contractor Newcon Builders

First storey columns finally cast

First storey columns finally cast

Review of reliefs on core wall and as seen from staircase 1

Review of reliefs on core wall and as seen from staircase

Formwork with formliner for core walls

Formwork with formliner for core walls

Rubber formliner for core wall

Rubber formliner for core wall

Mock-up of formliner wall

Mock-up of formliner wall

Off form pigmented concrete core wall with form liner pattern al

Off form pigmented concrete core wall with form liner pattern along the stair well

Curve and zig-zag slab edges

Curve and zig-zag slab edges

Precast panels different curvatures

Precast façade panels in different curvatures curing at the factory

First life sized facade panel mock up

First life sized facade panel mock up

Precast panels installation

Precast façade panel installation in progress

The Learning Hub under construction

The Learning Hub under construction

The Learning Hub under construction 2

The Learning Hub under construction

The Learning Hub under construction 3

The Learning Hub under construction

NTU Learning Hub circa Oct 2014

NTU Learning Hub circa Oct 2014

Big turn out at mock-up reviews

Big turn out at mock-up reviews

Label precast facade panel

It was important to label each precast façade panel so that it could be installed in the correct location to match to curvature of the slab

Mock-up of full-height phosphor bronze mesh

Mock-up of full-height phosphor bronze mesh

Finding out on site that the screed was not according to the app

Finding out on site that the screed was not according to the approved colour!

Ground paving following pod curvature

Ground paving following pod curvature

Learning Hub atrium space_CREDIT_Hufton and Crow

Learning Hub atrium space (CREDIT: Hufton and Crow)

The CPG Team

The CPG Team (from left Vivien, Nay Ling, Chitra, Alimatu, John, Samuel, Froilan, Renee and Khoon Cheng)

Also see: New Learning Hub at Nanyang Technological University

PROJECT TEAM:
Client / Owner:               Nanyang Technological University

CONSULTANTS:
Architect:                        CPG Consultants

CPG Team: Vivien Leong, Ng Nay Ling, Wong Wai Ying, Samuel Tan, Lee Khoon Cheng, Arnold Roces, Renee Santos Atayan, John Ronald Santos, Liliy Tay, Tan Lay Heok, Alimatu Sadiah, Froilan Allan E Belda, Chitra Devi Ramiah, Lo Sie Meng, Richard Quah, Lim Choon Keang, Zhang Yu, Pa Pa Mon, Alan Felix C Eusebion

Design Consultant:         Heatherwick Studio
C&S Engineer:                 TYLin International
M&E Engineer:                Bescon Consulting Engineer
Quantity Surveyors:        Davis Langdon KPK
Green Mark Consultant: CPGreen
Fire Safety Engineer:       LKH Fire Engineering
Acoustic Consultants :    CCW Consultants
Landscape Consultants : Perfect Sense
Lighting Consultants :    L’Observatoire International Lighting Designers and Consultants
Induction Unit Specialist : TCS Engineering

CONTRACTORS
Main Contractor:            Newcon Builders
Piling Contractor:           KH Foges
Services Diversion Contractor: Supersonic
Minor Sewer Contractor:          Goh & Foong
Lift Contractor:               XJ Elevators

SPECIALIST SUPPLIERS
Form Liner Supplier:       Eng Lee Engineering
Façade Panel Supplier:   LWC Alliance

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