SDE4 includes more than 1,500 square metres of design studio space, a 500-square-metre open plaza; a wide variety of public and social spaces; workshops and research centres; a new cafe and a library. The building’s flexible design and high efficiency reflect the School’s ambitions of promoting new forms of teaching spaces as a scaffold for research. Most of the rooms are designed in a variety of sizes to allow a flexible rearrangement of layout for exhibitions, school-specific installations and future change of use.
The building was envisioned as a porous architecture structured in a juxtaposition of ‘platforms and boxes’ expressing its programmatic content. One of the ambitions was to challenge the notion that an energy efficient building has to be opaque. The loose arrangement of compact volumes with outdoor space mean that it is able to reduce its energy demand without appearing monolithic. SDE4's large platforms are also configured in a way that promotes interaction and visual connectivity. The transparent volume renders outside and inside spaces ambiguous; where nature and landscape play an important role as a backdrop to the building.
The design carries the principles of vernacular tropical architecture in Southeast Asia. More than 50% of the total area is naturally ventilated and most of the rooms can be opened to prevailing breezes. Air-conditioning is used only when needed while the spaces interspersed between cooled volumes benefits from cross ventilation, acting as thermal buffers/social spaces, emulating the signature tropical verandas. The architecture is punctuated by an alternation of terraces, landscaped balconies and informal spaces. There are no formal boundaries between places to study, work and socialize.
The interstitial space between the inner and outer skins on the east and west facade is designated for research. In these areas, elements of the façade can be dismantled and replaced with new systems depending on the School’s research needs. Therefore, the building serves as a canvas for test-bedding and developing relevant green building technology, becoming, in effect, a living laboratory.
Circulation corridors and straight flight staircases link and penetrate these volumetric platforms, allowing spaces to bleed from one learning and research space to another, thereby broadcasting a collaborative nature of design. The large over-sailing roof protrudes along the south elevation embedding a tropical portico, built around mature existing trees. This openness allows spaces to flow freely across the envelope of the building, bringing the surrounding landscape into close proximity with interior spaces and vice versa. The east and west facades are designed as a veil, an aluminium curtain that filters sunlight and emphasizes a connection to the surroundings.
The south gardens are integral to the pedagogical experience of the building. Designed as a natural purification system, the landscape improves water quality while encouraging lifestyle activities and teaching around water. Runoff from the roof and hardscape is cleansed by passing through soil, which removes sediments and soluble nutrients. Nearly 50% of the plants selected are native species and most are from the southern tropics, a choice that also provides opportunities for environmental education.