Plystudio Architects’ focus on functionality and simplicity has created beautiful and useful spaces.
Architects Victor Lee and Jacqueline Yeo at the Rainbow Centre extension © URA
By Serene Tng
Their design of the Rainbow Centre extension, completed in association with The Architects’ Circle as Executive Architects, is introducing a new kind of learning environment for students with disabilities.
Located along Margaret Drive, the 8,500 square-metre four-storey extension to the existing building breaks away from the conventional institutional look with open and welcoming spaces to encourage students to learn more independently. “The classrooms are created to reflect home-based learning while outdoor spaces are specially curated to support active learning activities,” says Victor Lee, who started Plystudio Architects together with Jacqueline Yeo in 2008.
The Rainbow Centre extension © URA
Over the years, the husband-and-wife team has centred their designs around modulated forms, allowing for an active negotiation and calculation of allocated spaces that can help manage cost and cater to the needs of different users. This approach has been applied to the Rainbow Centre extension and other projects.
They have worked on a range of buildings and spaces, from the sheltered link-bridge in National Junior College, the interiors of Waterway Point shopping mall at Punggol to hotels, a film studio, offices and homes in Singapore and the region.
Waterway Point shopping mall at Punggol © Plystudio
We take a walk around Rainbow Centre’s extension with Victor and Jacqueline who show us how their focus on functionality and simplicity has created beautiful and useful spaces.
1. What were some of the considerations in designing the extension?
Victor: The extension had to accommodate and support a much larger community of teachers and students that included volunteers and caregivers. The student population was also diverse, ranging from preschoolers to teenagers who had very different needs.
In designing the various environments, we were mindful to create spaces that enabled students to thrive and learn independently and where they could also be challenged mentally and physically. Beyond this, we were conscious to connect the school to its immediate neighbourhood with a sense of openness.
2. Tell us more about your design approach.
Victor: We first focused on planning and organising the spaces in a rational grid which then gave rise to its form. Having a clear organisation of space enabled us to create scalable spaces within limited resources.
Drawing of the Rainbow Centre extension © Plystudio
We introduced a central courtyard to serve as the unifying and central focal point and created open spaces to break down the volume and scale of the building. Going beyond the conventional classroom setting, we designed spill-out spaces just outside of these rooms so that students could feel like they were more at home when learning and playing at any time.
Open spaces at the Rainbow Centre extension © URA
3. What was one major challenge in the design process?
Victor: In working closely with the school and teachers, a question that we constantly asked ourselves was how much do you design and provide for the students in the physical environment that supports their physical needs well and yet nurtures independence and encourage self-directed learning.
4. What did you find most rewarding about working on the extension?
Victor: It is fulfilling to be able create useful and impactful spaces for students to feel safe and inspired to learn in. It is also good to know that the new spaces we have introduced can be adapted further in understanding how to design learning spaces for the future. Following the completion of the extension, there has been interest from the school to replicate some of the teaching and learning spaces we have introduced in the extension into the existing building as well.
Plystudio worked with the school to feature the children’s drawings on a wall at the Rainbow Centre extension © URA
5. Based on the extension project and others, how do you see the role of architects evolving?
Victor: I see our roles evolving to becoming more active facilitators of turning what stakeholders and users want and need into useable designs of environments and spaces. Increasingly, it is important for architects to be brought in at earlier stages of the design process so that we can contribute to conversations and help shape principles and parameters that can make the design process later on more fruitful and productive.
Plystudio Architects’ works are on display at an inaugural exhibition, “Small Firms, Big Ideas” at the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA)’s new AUDE Space until 20 August 2019. The exhibition showcases the works of eight architectural firms through models, images and drawings that reimagine and rethink spaces and landscapes around Singapore.
Located at The URA Centre’s first storey atrium at 45 Maxwell Road, the dedicated exhibition space seeks to inspire good architecture and design in Singapore as part of URA’s Architecture & Urban Design Excellence (AUDE) programme. It will also share new ideas and best practices in improving the quality of the built environment.
For more information about the AUDE Space, go to URA.sg/aude.