In a city known for its five-star school campuses, this one has already been hailed ‘game changing’ by the UAE schools-reviews portal, Which School Advisor. The new 3,200m2 Sixth Form Hub for Dubai English Speaking College (DESC) opened its doors to 360 students in October this year. Designed by Lulie Fisher Design Studio (LFDS), it is the first of its kind in the Middle East and has the capacity to accommodate up to 500 sixth formers, aged between 16 and 18.
DESC took over a neighbouring campus in Dubai’s Academic City, which had previously housed Delhi Private School. The refurbishment project kicked off once the Indian curriculum school moved out this January. It’s been a major transformation that took just nine months from start to finish, including the design time and fit out.
“The brief was to provide a grown-up environment for students to prepare them for university life and the independent study that will be expected from them,” Lulie Fisher, design director and founder, LFDS tells CID. “We had to also provide them with a facility where they could thrive, both academically and socially.”
The existing building housed a kindergarten with long, low and dark corridors and poorly utilised external light wells. LFDS has succeeded in transforming the building into an open plan, dynamic, light-filled environment, fostering a sense of community and civic pride amongst the students.
“We designed the school around the concepts of community and collaboration – for both the students and the educators. The learning experience is enriched through collaboration and the layout of the facility itself promotes and enhances this opportunity,” Fisher says. “Our design intervention included breaking down barriers and walls, both internal and external, to create large, communal and interconnected spaces for studying, eating and relaxing – both inside, in internal light-filled courtyards, and outside, in enclosed green and Zen garden spaces.”
The central light well has now been enclosed with a roof structure and stretched fabric ceilings backlit with daylight-simulating light sources. It has resulted in a luminous, enclosed food court and study area, reminiscent of an outdoor garden courtyard. Freestanding banquette seating units with timber louvered canopies further perpetuate the illusion of the outdoors.
A second linear light well has been also been enclosed to create ‘chill-out’ lounges for the students. Full-height glass sliding and folding doors were inserted so the lounges open into a grassed and planted external garden.
Glass doors were introduced down the length of the flanking corridors, providing daylight, green views and direct access into the garden; with routes across the garden connecting the study rooms on either side. Furnished with pool tables, fun and colourful Verpan modular seating, Eames rockers, bean bags, ottomans and Hay side tables, the lounges are now a collegial, colourful break-out space.
The partial enclosure of these light wells effectively added 30% to the gross floor area and yielded the capacity to meet the school’s future expansion plans. “The chill-out lounges are our favourite design feature,” Fisher adds.
The natural theme of the outdoor courtyards and gardens was continued inside with the choice of sunny yellows, muted greens and warm oranges.
Commenting on the striking hues, Fisher says: “The colour and material palettes have been selected for their freshness, sense of fun and timelessness. The facility needs to look as relevant in 10 or 15 years time as it does now, so current fads and trends were meticulously avoided.”
Colour psychology played its part too. “Colours have a studied impact on education and the learning experience, and we were mindful of this when selecting the finishes and fabrics used inside the school. Green, a low wavelength colour, promotes relaxation and reminds us of nature; it is also a good colour for assisting long-term concentration. Orange, when used sparingly, can be welcoming and mood lifting for students which provides a sense of comfort and improved neural functioning. Yellows are known to be great in stimulating creativity and improving attention.”
The rooms flanking the corridors are devoted to different types of learning spaces, ranging from communal and collaborative study to quiet, private study pods. “The durability of finishes and materials was obviously also a key concern in such a heavily used environment. Good quality European furniture was selected for its aesthetic and its grown-up feel. Furniture not usually associated with schools was chosen to demonstrate DESC’s value and trust in the students and to project them into a university-style environment which comes with responsibility and mutual respect.”
Furniture was selected to complement various study methods of study: from long communal bar-height tables with integral task lighting to pairs and groupings of high and low-backed easy chairs, with side and coffee tables, and acoustically separated study pods for solitary learning. Orangebox and Hay chairs and stools are upholstered in warm and bright colours. All the desking is fully enabled with power outlets and USB-charging points, and served by task lighting.
The school cafeteria serves up a healthy selection of hot and cold food options from polished black granite food counters, illuminated by red rubber Muuto pendants. The abstract backdrop image made of colourful tiles was inspired by tribal designs.
There’s also a dedicated pantry for students, which incorporates work surfaces, sinks, microwaves and banquette seating; combined with high bar counters for snacking and working. All are equipped with charging stations and dedicated lighting.
The project cost was $1,035 (AED 3,800) per m2, including FF&E but excluding the specialist gym fit-out and the courtyard landscaping. Excluding FF&E, the cost was $899 (AED 3,300) per m2.
Key suppliers on this project included Amtico Tiles for vinyl floor tiles in the study rooms, Johnsons Tiles and Tile Line for porcelain and ceramic wall and floor tiles throughout, Kvadraat for fabrics, Stretch Ceilings Middle East for the back lit stretch ceilings in food court. Furniture and lighting suppliers include Hay, Pedrali, Fritz Hansen, Verpan, Vitra, Muuto and Kinnarps (for the study booths).
With students’ health and wellbeing being at the heart of the DESC philosophy, LFDS created a state-of-the-art strength and conditioning gym with weight lifting and cross fit rig. It would not look out of place in any private health club. Serviced by changing rooms with individual glass-fronted shower cubicles, the gym also has wet and dry vanity counters for hair drying and make-up.
LFDS also accommodated a Wellness Centre with quiet relaxation areas, a yoga studio and suites for counsellors, wrapped around a shaded Japanese-style Zen garden. It’s the perfect place of respite for teenaged students.