Dubai College began construction of its new ‘C Hub’ building this week, marked with a ground-breaking ceremony attended by His Excellency Dr Abdullah Al Karam, Director General of the KHDA.
The innovative new building is part of the College’s ambitious ‘Campus 2030’ project, which over the past seven years has seen the school gradually demolishing, and then updating, the structures of the more than 40-year-old school, block by block, replacing them with cutting-edge facilities.
Dubai College Principal, Michael Lambert said:
“C Hub is the culmination of everything we have been working on. Not just the expansion and the renovation of the campus, but also the whole teaching and learning philosophy that we’ve been working on as a school.”
Spread over three floors and 500sqm of space, the new building incorporates an indoor garden, café, Harkness rooms and library, and the classrooms have been designed in a non-traditional way to reflect key school principles such as oracy and its desire to produce students who turn out to be lifelong learners. Mr Lambert explains:
“Embedded in the centre of C Hub is our Computer Science department, which is adjacent to our Art department, to show the synthesis between the STEM and the STEAM.
“Downstairs you’ll see the Green Screen studios, where we want our students to be producers of media and technology and not simply just consumers of media and technology.
“And then on the ground floor, there’s a wonderful Library Resource and Research Centre, which is three times the size of our current library. So it really brings absolutely all of the threads together that we’ve been working on as a school.”
C Hub at Dubai College – “Tearing up the rulebook” of traditional school building design
C Hub is ripping up the regular rulebook on classrooms which traditionally sees them as discrete entities separated into subject areas. Instead, the radical new C Hub will deliver a collaborative, connected building where boundaries between disciplines are dispensed with, and blended learning encouraged, says architectural firm Godwin Austen Johnston (GAJ), which is overseeing the project.
Commenting on the project Jason Burnside, partner at GAJ said:
“The whole building functions as a big collaborative hub and we have created a number of different study and social spaces, from the open atrium steps and café to the more intimate study pods, to appeal to everyone.”
“Key for us was to link the new building with the existing D Block which we previously refurbished and which we see as a continuation of the upgrade process we achieved in this block.”
The collaborative theme of the design is clearly evidenced throughout the building with the introduction of moveable walls between the classrooms which will allow users to connect spaces when required or create more focused study areas providing a greater degree of flexibility.
In addition, there are several key areas on the ground floor designed to bring students together to study, socialise or for group activities. The first is a large floorplate garden that sits in the central atrium with several different zones radiating out from it. An open plan library is a study in free flow allowing students to wander in and out unrestrained, and a café provides a social area that connects directly to the outdoors.
How many more spaces will the new Dubai College C Hub make for extra students?
Dubai College is perennially oversubscribed, so one might assume that any renovation would naturally involve increased capacity to take in more students.
But the extra capacity, if any, is minimal. Julian Smyth, Development Director at Dubai College, said:
“We are 1,086 at the moment, and we have set a limit of 1,100 on this campus.”
This desire to keep capacity restricted chimes with the feedback the architects received for students at the school. From the outset GAJ involved the students and teachers in the design of the project, and one of the key findings was that students didn’t want to it to change too much: “They didn’t want it to get so big that they would no longer know who everyone is,” said Mr Burnside.
Indeed, honouring the school’s living legacy and significant history in the UAE – dating all the way back to 1977 – is something the architects have been keen to do. The new buildings might contain all the fancy tech and progressive design elements of a cutting-edge facility, but its exterior echoes the design of the original school blocks, which were built back in the ‘70s with one goal in mind: “to create a British private school in the desert”.
After being shown a walk-through video (above) of the planned C Hub building – which is planned to be finished at the beginning of Summer next year – Dr Abdullah Al Karam, Director General of the KHDA, also referenced the school’s history. He recalled his memory of being approached by the leadership of Dubai College many decades ago when he was CEO of Knowledge Village. At that time a request was made for more land to build on, so the College could expand. Agreeing, or not agreeing; both presented a number of complexities to grapple with. It was far from an easy decision to make. In that context, Dr Al Karam commented:
“We don’t always make the right decisions, but we always make them for the right reasons. If you had shown me this video 20 years ago you wouldn’t have just got that land; you would have got a whole lot more land.”
So what’s on the horizon for the next phase of expansion of Dubai College? With a planned handover of C Hub in May/ June 2023, the architects are already working on plans for the demolishing and rebuilding of the current library, which is set to be replaced by the library in C Hub.
And considering the capped capacity at the current campus, could another site be in the works one day in the future? Or could there even be the potential of a Dubai College defying the trend for international schools to come to the UAE, and setting up a Dubai College in England for a change?
Time will tell. For now… watch this space.
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