The New Student Center: Promoting Belongingness through Acacia Wood

Located near the iconic Red Bird sculpture at the North Gate, the new Student Center is a beautifully designed open learning space that opened in December 2023. The Center showcases HKUST’s commitment to sustainability education and innovation, promoting waste reduction, wellness, and student engagement.

An important aspect of the design is the incorporation of natural lighting and ventilation. The facade has made use of large windows to maximize the amount of natural light entering the space, reducing the need for artificial lighting throughout the day. This not only enhances the overall appeal of the centre, but also promotes well-being and productivity amongst students. To further enhance wellness, the design includes strategically placed planters and indoor plants to improve air quality and create a calming atmosphere. These green elements also add to the biophilic aesthetics of the space, drawing students toward nature and reinforcing the natural setting of HKUST.

With the addition of study cubicles and nap pods around, it is an inviting and enjoyable space for everyone on campus. The nap pods are from a funded project by the “Sustainable Smart Campus as a Living Lab” initiative, aiming on improving students’ cognitive and mental functioning. Based on a 13-month questionnaire survey, involving feedback from nearly 400 users, approximately 40% of users fell asleep after using the sleep pods, with around 94% of them reporting a sleep quality of "OK" or higher. Around 77% of people experienced adequate rest or a boost of energy after using the nap pods. Taking a nap in the Centre would bring benefits for both memory and mental well-being.

Touring around the Center embodies the genius loci of HKUST. Design elements that embodies the school identity includes the HKUST sundial “Red Bird” origami artwork by acclaimed origami artist and HKUST(GZ)’s Prof. Liu Tong, a “Red Bird” lighting feature illuminating the stairwell, as well as an abstract interpretation of the campus map displayed on one of the Center’s walls. This not only serves a practical purpose by helping students navigate the campus but also fosters a sense of belonging and pride in being part of the university community. The plaque to the right of the map pays tribute to the origin of the wood which originates from the much-loved mature Acacia confusa tree grove from the site of the new Martin Ka Shing Lee Innovation Building. Besides the map, Acacia hardwood takes the form of staircase soffit, benches and standing table tops which allows students to appreciate the natural wood grain. These Acacia trees grew up alongside the campus and reusing the wood in campus project utilize its full value, gives them new life, honouring this heritage for future generations of students. This adds warmth and an organic feel to the space but also reduces the carbon footprint associated with transportation and manufacturing. The use of locally sourced materials and artisans helps to support the local economy as well.

These design elements are all aimed at creating a welcoming and sustainable space for students to connect, socialize, and thrive academically.  The new Student Centre is not only a functional space but also an embodiment of the university's dedication to sustainability and student well-being.

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