For its first three years of existence, Yale-NUS occupied a single building within the expansive National University of Singapore campus. Dorms, classrooms and faculty offices sat stacked on top of one another in the borrowed 17-story NUS building.
Today, a stroll through Yale-NUS’ new campus takes visitors through three completed residential colleges — Saga, Elm and Cendana — as well as through sky gardens, linked courtyards and an eco-pond. The $240-million construction project, started in July 2012, was completed in July and formally inaugurated on Monday. As the college celebrates its new home, Yale-NUS administrators, faculty and students said shaping the college’s identity, traditions and student life is the next step.
Before Yale-NUS moved into its new campus, the college’s first two cohorts — the class of 2017 and class of 2018 — lived in a transient home known as the RC4, a building owned by NUS. Students were grouped by floor based on the residential college to which they were assigned, even while RC4 lacked certain spaces and features unique to residential colleges. As of this fall, however, Yale-NUS students have physically moved into the three residential colleges, which are modeled after Yale’s 12. Yale-NUS President Pericles Lewis said that interaction among students in the residential colleges will help build a unique Yale-NUS identity that the young institution needs.
“[The new campus] definitely helps build an identity in the sense that people are in residential colleges as in New Haven, where students live together for four years, build connections and have spaces to do fun things, to learn and to grow together,” Lewis said.
He added that the colleges were designed to enhance communication and intimacy among students through open passageways that allow students to see one another from different sides of the building and engage more frequently.
Saga College Rector Sarah Weiss, whose role is similar to a Yale mastership, said that just as students at Yale take part in extracurricular activities, live in suites and lodge in residential colleges, the Yale-NUS community is multilayered. Having separate residential college buildings enhances students’ sense of belonging to a particular residential community, enables different colleges to use their physical spaces to host both college-specific and campus-wide events and helps build an identity within each college.
“The unique spaces in each of the residential colleges provide opportunities for customization and allow for the critical space that students and faculty can capitalize on to begin to create the unique identities that would characterize each residential college in the years to come,” Cendana College Rector Derek Heng said.
Still, Bozy Lu YNUS ’18 said that although the new campus does constitute Yale-NUS’ physical presence, the students and staff are the ones who ultimately build the college’s identity. The new campus provides a space for students to interact, but how they make use of it is what really defines it, Bozy added.
Jason Carlo Carranceja YNUS ’18 said that by allowing students to move into Yale-NUS’ own campus from the borrowed NUS building, Yale-NUS’ identity as an autonomous institution is firmly cemented. Although the new campus may not capture the close-knit environment that was a trademark of the original space, the move gives students a chance to start fresh and lay new traditions in the permanent home.
Occupying 64,000 square meters, the new Yale-NUS campus was a collaboration between Forum Architects in Singapore and Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects in New Haven. Lewis said the new campus’s design, which combines local Singaporean and Western aesthetics, embodies the school’s vision. For example, Lewis said the new campus contains butteries, courtyards and suites adapted from Yale’s architecture but also contains coloring, patterning and wood of the Southeast-Asian tradition. The naming of the three residential colleges also reflects Yale-NUS’ ties to both to Yale and Singapore — Elm College was named to reflect its links to New Haven and Saga and Cendana Colleges honor trees indigenous to the region, according to Yale-NUS’ Executive Vice President for Institutional Affairs Doris Sohmen-Pao, who supervised the college’s infrastructure team.
“Our approach to the Yale-NUS campus design was to combine the sensibilities common to both the Yale campus residential college model and Asian architecture and let Singapore’s climatic context influence the forms,” said Mariko Masuoka ’78 ARC ’80, an architect from Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, who led the design project. “In the end, the campus design is not a simple mash-up of architectural elements but rather a unique response to context.”
At Yale, residential college entryways house about 30 to 40 students and are arranged horizontally along the perimeters of college courtyards. But due to Singapore’s limited land, high population density and high-rise urban landscape, Yale-NUS’ entryways, or neighborhoods, are stacked vertically within a tower. Wong Chin Wah, associate director of Forum Architects, said the internal community within each residential college neighborhood is maintained by a shared sky garden — an outdoor living room that is an essential feature of the tropics and Singapore, the “Garden City.”
Wong added that while Yale-NUS kept the Yale tradition of having courtyards, the Yale-NUS campus is composed of a series of interlocking courtyards that flow one into the next through a walkway. The college courtyards are also designed with breezeways and large openings aligned in so that they do not block Singapore’s tropical, monsoon-driven breeze. The tropical climate also spurred the design team to modify the Yale-NUS courtyards by adding covered colonnades with rain screens to block the sun and rain, Masuoka said.
Before the new campus was built, Yale-NUS students relied on NUS spaces for lecture theaters and gym use and shared a dining hall with NUS’ College of Alice & Peter Tan. Now the students will have their own lecture halls, library and black box theater — resources students said they enjoy. However, upperclassmen interviewed voiced mixed views on moving out of RC4 and being divided into different residential colleges.
“In the past, all the college activities were held in one small building, so everyone wanted to get away from it during the weekends,” Tan Weiliang YNUS ’18 said. “It’s less of a problem these days. I also have no trouble finding quiet study spaces, or rooms for group meetings these days. There is no longer a battle to secure the only big common lounge for student organization events. I certainly feel much happier living in the new campus.”
Weiss, who is also an associate professor of music, said that with the increased number of classrooms, scheduling class time is more flexible. Weiss added that facilities with various functions give students space to do things they could not for the past two years.
Still, while students praised the new campus for its facilities, some said the intimacy of living in a single building was lost when students were divided into three different residential colleges.
“As we moved to the new campus, the reality of the separation of the three [residential colleges] struck us upperclassmen hard,” Carranceja said. “Gone were the days of seeing almost everyone every day. The residential college divide is real, and we rarely see our old friends from other [residential colleges] other than in our class.”
John Reid YNUS ’18 said that partly because students are more geographically dispersed, it is no longer possible to know everyone in the school, adding that while the change is natural, a kind of intimacy has faded.
Lu said the clear physical distinction between the three residential colleges does help to foster spirit and strong bonds within them individually. Still, Lu said the divide is not very significant because the student population is still so small.