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6 amazing feats of university architecture and the creators behind them

University architecture may not be the main focal point when visiting a campus, but it is certainly what first draws you in. Believe it or not, it takes great intent and effort to create that whimsical effect that makes you go “I have a good feeling about this place” — and it all begins in an architect’s mind. Here, we take a look at some fabulous testaments to modern design at universities today, and the great minds behind them.

Innovation Science and Technology (IST) Building, Florida Polytechnic University

This multiple award-winning building is a moveable and functional work of art, as far as university architecture goes. It includes a system of 94 louvered arms raising and lowering throughout the day to adjust the lighting in the second-floor atrium. These louvers track the sun above a glass roof. Plus, the curved metal pergolas you see forming the oval facade shade the building’s outer terrace and walkways. Engineers and builders completed the building in just over two years.

It was designed by Spanish neo-futuristic architect Dr Santiago Calatrava, who is also responsible for the iconic Turning Torso in Malmö, Sweden. His practice in Zurich began in the early 80s, expressing a style described as “bridging the division between structural engineering and architecture.” His inspiration for this design? The university’s very own logo.

Centre Building, London School of Economics

This 13-storey landmark is the largest building commissioned in LSE’s history. Students come here to learn, socialise, study and collaborate while enjoying spectacular views of London’s skyline. Its sustainable design code provides good daylighting and natural ventilation, reduces embodied carbon by 30%, and harvests rainwater to be reused. Unsurprisingly, the Centre Building cost 78 million pounds to construct.


Its multi-award-winning architect Sir Richard Rogers is famously preoccupied with piazzas, framing city landmarks as stages for the grand performance of everyday life. LSE Director of Estates Julian Robinson attests, “With its emphasis on sustainability, community and collaboration, the Centre Building has created an inspiring academic environment.”

Simmons Hall, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Open in 2002, Simmons Hall is an MIT Undergraduate Residence Hall which houses over 300 students, resident scholars, as well as professors and their families. Here, you’ll find community lounges, laundry rooms, two multi-purpose halls, five dining halls, and a two-storey gym with an eagle eye’s view of Boston.


This residence block was imagined by eminent American architect Steven Holl, who is known for blending space and light with great contextual sensitivity. His education in Rome must have laid the groundwork for his talent in integrating new projects within their cultural and historical contexts.

Bill and Melinda Gates Hall, Cornell University

This computing and information science hub is located at the corner of Hoy and Campus Roads on Cornell University’s Ithaca campus. It houses faculty offices, a 151-seat lecture hall, and top-notch teaching and research labs, with plenty of communal spaces. The enclosing glass facade is customised with exterior perforated stainless steel panels, which shades sunlight from the north, south, and west.


Costs for the US$60 million project were entirely fundraised, with a US$25 million donation from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Pritzker prize-winning architect and urban planner Thom Mayne put a firm sculptural, futuristic touch on this hall. Mayne’s firm was also responsible for designing the first academic building on  Cornell Tech’s New York City campus.

The Hive, Nanyang Technological University

Aspiring green campus NTU made a mark in Singapore with the unveiling of its Learning Hub, dubbed The Hive, back in 2013. It is the first building in the country to utilise a passive displacement ventilation system, which saves up to 30% energy. Besides the garden campus and rooftop terrace, you will find natural foliage peeking through and cascading down the building. Its inverted shape also allows the upper floors to shade lower levels.


Brit Thomas Alexander Heatherwick is the architect responsible for this project. Known as an “ideas engine” and “the Leonardo da Vinci of our times,” he is also behind the 2012 Olympic Cauldron and London’s New Routemaster double-decker bus.

Hachioji Library, Tama Art University

The entire first floor of this library slopes gently from the front entrance, with exterior glass walls and large arches beckoning you into an open space that extends artistically from its natural environment. This floor features an all-purpose gallery space, as well as magazine and video archives. On the second floor, you can settle on a private reading seat with one of the 100,000 books lined up in open access stacks.


This university architecture project received the concrete touch of Japanese conceptual genius Toyo Ito. It is an ambiguous, artfully segmented building that speaks for the role of architecture in human interaction. Ito set out to create a shared space that fostered interaction and collaboration, which explains the spatial continuity punctuated only by shelves, desks, and boards.

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