SUTD hopes to realise 'open campus' vision

Provost says Changi campus is designed to let students mingle

BUDDING technopreneurs pitching ideas to industry veterans over coffee.

Lunchtime talks on modern design in rare Ming and Qing dynasty houses donated by movie star Jackie Chan.

These are part of the vision of an "open, 24/7" campus laid out by the provost of the new Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD).

Professor Chong Tow Chong spoke of his aspirations ahead of the topping out ceremony, which is due to take place in September.

He told The Straits Times that the campus in Changi is designed around the concept of encouraging students to mingle.

"There will be no gates... The idea is to create openness, like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) campus in the United States," he said.

Architects and engineers will attend classes under one roof, he added, in a break from the traditional practice of grouping students by their disciplines.

Over coffee at the campus cafe, aspiring technopreneurs will be able to pitch their ideas to industry veterans from Changi Business Park across the road.

"A lot of ideas can be generated from these little conversations," said Prof Chong.

The campus, which sits on 23ha of land near Singapore Expo, features a cluster of academic buildings, with a hollow centre resembling a courtyard. The design is the work of Singapore-based DP Architects and Dutch firm UNStudio. The latter was co-founded by renowned architect Ben van Berkel - the man behind iconic projects like the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart, Germany.

There is also a cluster of residential-cum-sports facilities featuring the houses, which Chan donated from China. Maximising space is a priority as the buildings cannot go higher than eight storeys because of the campus' proximity to Changi Airport. So the tennis court sits on the roof of the sports hall, for instance.

The first phase of construction - including three academic buildings and two residential blocks - is due to be completed by the end of next year. Students, who now attend classes at the interim Dover Drive campus, will move to the new site in early 2015.

Come 2017, the campus will be linked to the Upper Changi station on the Downtown Line. The rest of the plot will be developed in phases, as the student population grows. SUTD declined to reveal the cost of the campus.

The topping out ceremony will mark another milestone for Singapore's fourth university, which recently took in its second batch of 283 undergraduates.

SUTD, which partners MIT and China's Zhejiang University, now has more than 600 students.

While some have frowned on the campus' somewhat far-flung location, Prof Chong sees great potential in its proximity to places like Changi Business Park, which will create "an entire innovation eco-system", linking academia and industry.

SUTD is in talks with the park, which is planning its second development phase. Prof Chong said he hopes it can bring in engineering- related businesses, adding: "This is where our strengths lie."

hwee@sph.com.sg