While most countries have been cutting corners when it comes to the arts, Singapore has heavily invested in a national plan focusing on cultural development, especially amongst its youth. One of the many projects undertaken, WOHA Architects' School of the Arts is a brand new specialist high school geared towards education in the visual and performing arts. Settled within a district of 20th century heritage buildings and modern high-rises, the School of the Arts is a spectacular addition that stands on its own with an extensive green roof and a green facade that keeps the interiors cool and the city air clean.
The school is located in the heart of the Civic district at the edge of the Arts and Entertainment district. The project follows an unconventional model, combining a high-density inner city school with a professional performing arts venue. The primary design strategy was to create two visually connected horizontal strata: one space for public engagement — the “Backdrop” — and the other for classroom activities, private performance instruction and the like, called the “Blank Canvas”.
The Backdrop is the podium that contains a concert hall, drama theatre, black box theatre and several small informal performing spaces. The spaces maintain an active network of circulation routes that pedestrians can use to navigate the Backdrop, and they even lead down into the underground train station at Dhoby Ghaut. The route is open, follows the program of the space, and allows passersby a view into the activities and productions of the school The interior is treated in rough, colored concrete cast from recycled form work for angled surfaces that contrasts with smooth-painted vertical surfaces.
The Blank Canvas is designed as a flexible environment that can be transformed to meet the needs of the students. The building is made up of three long rectangular 6-story blocks that span across the Backdrop podium. Unlike the open circulation provided in the Backdrop, areas of the Blank Canvas can only be accessed at a single point via elevators and escalators.
The Blank Canvas’ classrooms and studios boast natural ventilation and are well-proportioned and cross-ventilated. Classrooms are designed in 9 meter x 9 meter modules with operable end walls that allow room sizes to be flexible for future needs. A green façade cuts energy costs and provides a much healthier environment within by filtering air, reducing glare and dust, keeping the rooms cool, and absorbing traffic noise.
The rooftop has been designed as a recreational park in the sky, complete with a running track, shady trees, and panoramic views of the city. At the base of the structure one can also find commercial spaces along the walkway with an overhead cover. A large civic amphitheater is situated under several large conserved trees, where it serves as a popular meeting place for inhabitants of the city.
Photos: Patrick Bingham-Hall