National University of Singapore (NUS) Central Library is a multidisciplinary library serving the knowledge and information needs of the university community. Students’ academic life on campus is often centred around the library so it has a deep connection with them and forms part of their journey during their time in NUS.
Contemporary libraries around the world are reinventing their physical spaces. They have to provide versatile spaces that support a wide range of users’ learning and research activities while accommodating rapid advances in information technology. In response to such foregoing trends, NUS Central Library is reinventing itself to remain relevant and to stay ahead.
The objective of this project is to retrofit six levels of the existing NUS Central Library building. The overarching theme is modern contemporary and timeless design, with a touch of Asian culture. Local traditions and cultures take precedence in the design as it falls within the context of Singapore’s multicultural community. The key design model for the spaces is to redefine learning commons into full-service hubs for learning, research, engagement and collaboration. In doing so, the spatial design prioritises versatility. Spaces are designed in such a way that they allow for reconfigurations into different functions such as gathering or event spaces, workshops or meeting rooms, computer lab or makerspaces. This is to support a wide variety of learning activities, and to allow collaborations and discoveries because the future of NUS Central Library is to be an arena equipped with cutting-edge technology and flexible spaces that sustain the advancement of research and the creation of new knowledge.
ENCOURAGING RESEARCH AND COLLABORATION
The ground floor is designed by keeping in mind the seamless connectivity between the main road, that is Kent Ridge Crescent, and the outdoor public space called the Forum. The design enables students, staff, the public, as well as the physically disabled, to have easy and safe access to or through the library.
The extended front façade has been purposely tilted to embrace the rectangular columns, creating dynamism in the entrance. From here, visitors are immediately welcomed by the spacious Galleria. This now-doubled space is flooded with natural light from the two ends of the façade and is beautified by the continuation of the tubular ceiling flowing from the Forum. The Rare Books Display on the second floor stretches along the frontage, showcasing a collection of over 61,000 titles that inspires learning. The full-height glass maintains not only extensive view of the collection, but also a visual connection with the Galleria and the people at the Forum.
The first-floor space has been reconfigured into a living room that is welcoming, warm and safe, and is intended to support the social aspects of learning, such as hosting temporary exhibitions and events. The architecturally rich design accommodates students and faculty members to innovate learning through a combination of research and collaboration.
The interior charms come from the use of timber laminate, soft fabric, woven floor vinyl and Asian-inspired colour combination. The ceiling, columns and walls are painted white or in light colours, not only to make the space appear larger, but also to direct users’ attention to the rich texture and the interaction of different materials.
Comfort is one of the most important factors in designing the spaces. The contemporary yet mindfully Asian designs, along with the thematic furniture, good lighting, colour and acoustics, conjure up congenial ambience and maximum comfort. The wall and floor remain in neutral colours, juxtaposed with bright furnishings to spark vibrancy. The furniture is durable, with classic and simple designs that match the overall library interior.
The types of lighting fixture and arrangement were chosen based on the usage of space, integrated with the ceiling services like air diffusers and exhaust ducts. Stacks and study areas are illuminated by gentle lighting. Localised areas such as reading lounges and carrels are basked in warm colours to stimulate cognitive processing.
As NUS Central Library not merely provides a quiet haven for book lovers, but also spaces for collaboration and research, it could be noisy. To solve the acoustic problems, loud and quiet activity areas are separated. The first, third and fourth floors are allocated for collaborative activities, whereas the fifth and sixth floors are assigned for quiet reading or studying. Additionally, acoustic materials for ceiling and flooring were carefully selected and installed to cancel noise.
As NUS Central Library seeks to be less book-dominated and more user-orientated, greater attention is paid to the users’ experience and service spaces. Furniture is movable to allow multifunctional use of space. Vertical screens are rotatable to allow for pockets of spaces. Flexibility is the key to cater the ever-growing needs from various groups of users.
Another challenge was for the proposed conceptual designs to adapt to the actual space and constraints. Strategic planning and design were needed to anticipate change and to ease construction process on site. Therefore, practical needs of the library were carefully identified and the language and meaning of designs were translated into clear design goals. To formulate such goals and to ensure that these were achievable and affordable, the consultant team worked closely with the librarians. The rule of thumb was to design all components, from ceiling panels and floor vinyl tiles to façade glazing and integrated air diffusers, in modules or standard sizes to increase productivity and efficiency during installation.
Project names: National University of Singapore Central Library
Location: Kent Ridge Crescent, National University of Singapore
Status of Construction: Construction Works – Phase 1
Expected Completion: 1st Quarter 2020
Site Area: 1,405,920.3 square metres
Gross Floor Area: 30,470.29 square metres
Building Height: 6 storeys
Client: National University of Singapore
Architecture Firm: Architects 61 Pte Ltd
Principal Architect: Michael Ngu
Interior Design Firm: Architects 61 Pte Ltd
Principal Designer: Gieto Sugianto
Civil & Structural Engineer: KCL Consultants Pte Ltd
Mechanical & Electrical Engineer: BECA Carter Hollings & Ferner (SEA) Pte Ltd
Quantity Surveyor: CPG Consultants Pte Ltd
Green Building Consultant: Architects 61 Pte Ltd
Main Contractor: Gennal Industries Pte Ltd
Interior Fit-Out Contractor: Enlighten and Liberty
Images: Architects 61 Pte Ltd