All societies are searching for strategies to achieve three main goals: a set of living conditions that contribute to the wellbeing of the population, economic growth, and full employment. Islands are no exception. Of the 194 sovereign states in the world, 47 are islands . The economies of small insular archipelagos have been studied as special cases of development. Connectivity is key to them and the Internet is a great opportunity beat the many challenges of insularity. Islands represent 6.3% of the surface of the planet, and approximately 10% of the global population lives on them. There are more than 2,000 islands on Earth.
Many islands in the world could learn from the Canary Islands: how we organize things, connect, make agreements, and find balance (this article was written in Tenerife). The Canary Islands are reasonably well organized compared to other archipelagos, such as those in the Caribbean or Indonesia. However, we’ve got a long way to go to become the best and we could learn a lot from another unique island: Singapore. Smart cities are in vogue – although I’d prefer to delve into the concept of smart islands – and the most advanced and competitive is this small and legendary Asian island, a bit larger than la Gomera and a bit smaller than Lanzarote.
This island of the future, hot and humid Singapore, is at the top of the list of cities (and islands) that invest the most in smart city projects, along with New York, Tokyo, and London. How has a fishing island become one of the most competitive countries in the world?
It became an independent country in 1965 and at the time faced unemployment and economic difficulties, and it began a modernization program that was focused on the creation of manufacturing, developing the port, and, above all, high and innovative investment in public education. The most commonly used bill on the island, the two dollar bill, has a one-word slogan: education. The entire island is committed to providing the best education possible for its people and that is the basis for the Nanyang Technological University Learning Hub architecture project. I’m not sure if the building looks more like an elongated bee hive or piles of steamy dim sum baskets stacked one on top of the other.
The Learning Hub is a new kind of university building. Its architecture explores new ways of learning at a time when the Internet is challenging the logic of traditional learning institutions. While it has a library and a theater, the majority of the space is different from other universities: it has 56 round rooms in 12 towers separated into eight floors, connected with a large concrete platform, giving the building 150,694 square feet of space. The classrooms, which are used by university professors and their 33,000 students, are spartan and not for lectures: they are spaces for discussion and exploration (learning by doing). Students don’t learn conventionally there, they interact.
The studio of the imaginative English architect Thomas Heatherwick, famous for his Seed Cathedral , completed this building for Nanyang Technological University in 2015 with the specific intention of it looking nothing like any other university building ever built.
It is on the campus that was planned by Kenzo Tange in the 1980s, in the middle of the green lungs that mitigate the heat on this Asian island. In the middle of the rectilinear campus designed by Tange, there is now a voluptuously curvaceous building, as if it had landed from outer space.
The university wanted to do away with the traditional relationship between teacher and student in order to encourage a new kind of collaborative education. In Singapore, a teacher is no longer supposed to stand in front of the class and that is why this building has no corners. This dismantles the standard classroom hierarchy where the teacher stands at the front and the students face the teacher.
Instead of hallways, each level has open-air balconies where students can walk around and meet up. Instead of a conventional main entrance, the building is airy and permeable at the ground level, i.e., people can enter from all sides.
It also has an exotic side, something quite British, like the entire island, which has not been able – nor has it wished – to forget its past as a British colony; it also has a brutalist side like the Torres Blancas in Madrid by Sáenz de Oiza or Marina City in Chicago, designed by Bertrand Goldberg, both in the 1960s.
The building in Singapore fuses different disciplines such as engineering, fashion, and spectacle with architecture. It as an impeccably maintained university campus, full of exotic plants and trees, but, above all, it is different, designed for the 21st century by a client, the government of Singapore, which has been able to eliminate all the disadvantages of insularity and turn them into advantages.
 List of SIDS (Small Island Developing States). UN https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/topics/sids/list
 United Kingdom pavilion at Shanghai World Expo 2010 https://www.plataformaarquitectura.cl/cl/02-40776/el-impresionante-pabellon-del-reino-unido-en-la-expo-shanghai-2010