16 October 2013: Placemaking our home

Written by Kelly Tan | Image by Alyson Rozells


As a new college in a temporary home with no history and stories to tell, how can Yale-NUS instil a stronger sense of belonging in the students and the community? How can we foster better relationships with our neighbours in the vicinity? What are some of the possibilities that can be explored to create a home for everyone? These were but some of the questions our students found themselves asking during the Week 7 project Placemaking RC4.

Student Evan Asava-Aree (Class of 2017) went into the project wanting to find out more about the influences of buildings on the human mind and behaviour. Through the course of the project, he realised that it was often inhabitants who were essential to spaces. While architects and designers could plan specific functions for a space or pathway, they would not be able to restrict users from finding alternative purposes for it. This in turn shaped the “desire lines” for the place, which was what students were trying to establish for Yale-NUS College’s temporary home in Residential College 4 at NUS University Town. Evan said, “We are discovering new, unplanned spaces where students and faculty come together to learn and have conversations.”

In addition to a field trip to the Future City Lab, where they saw how the spaces of interactions across Singapore were being mapped out, students participated in an insightful discussion with Vertical Kampong, an initiative by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre aimed at bringing back the kampong spirit to the communities we live in. Students were treated to a bird’s-eye view from the rooftop of Residential College 4 to observe how Yale-NUS fit into the extended community beyond campus grounds. Students also began building ties with the neighbouring Casa Clementi, New Town Secondary School, and our immediate neighbour in University Town – the College of Alice and Peter Tan.

The key highlight of the program for Evan had to be the tour of the future campus of Yale-NUS. Not only did he and his classmates get to speak with the architects of the campus in construction, they also had lunch with the builders of the campus. “It felt amazing to take a walk through the perimeter of the campus,” said Evan. “I really had a feel for how majestic and grand the scale of operations were. Being able to see it makes me appreciate the work that the construction workers are doing.”

Through their Comparative Social Institutions lectures in the Yale-NUS Common Curriculum, students had become aware of the different detriments and restrictions a city could impose. Through Placemaking RC4, students discovered the many possibilities of their local environment. Placemaking, they learned, was about understanding not only the architectural aspects of a place, but also the history and the hopes that a place embodied. As part of this Week 7 project, Singaporean artist Dawn Ng conducted a master class for our students and mentored them in their efforts in Placemaking RC4. Students, parents, faculty and guests were then treated to a curated collection of four art installations that addressed the college site’s history, desire lines of the building, reflections of the students living here and their hidden dreams and hopes for the future.

“Dawn Ng showed us that things don’t have to make permanent changes to make a physical mark across time. Temporary interventions can also lead to a change in perception,” said Evan.

Humanities Assistant Professor Matthew Walker, who participated in Placemaking RC4, shared that it was fascinating to discover firsthand with the students the many different worlds standing in such close proximity to RC4. “It was rewarding to see the creativity and intelligence that students brought to bear on the task of designing and creating installations in RC4,” said Dr Walker.

Student Tiffany Sin (Class of 2017) added, “I didn’t realise how broad the project was. We covered everything from history, art, urban science and landscape design.”

Week Seven: Learning Across Boundaries (LABs) brought our students closer to the realities in which they live and provided them with novel ways of finding a meaningful connection to their education. In addition to Placemaking RC4, students also embarked on projects including Varieties of Religious Experience in Singapore, Alternatives to Fossil Fuels: Options for Singapore, Tsunami and Reconstruction in Banda Aceh, and Migrant Nation. While many students followed their passions, others pushed themselves out of their comfort zones, choosing topics they knew little about and allowing their curiosity to take the lead as they explored issues and the world.

Find out more about other Week Seven projects here.