Learning to Work with Robots

Futuristic laboratory creates the perfect space for training on industrial automation.
1 June, 2017
The RACE Robotics Laboratory in Singapore is really dedicated to its full name: Robotics Automation Centre for Excellence.
It's where students learn about robotics, and engineers go to train on new automation technologies. So when the laboratory planned a new hands-on training space for its workshops and seminars, they wanted a design as forward-looking and energetic as the new RACE is. They also needed to make sure the plan included showroom space for the robots they sell there.

So the company called on Ministry of Design (MOD) architects to give the 243 square meter space, located in a small industrial park in a primarily residential neighborhood in Yishun, as much innovation in its aesthetics as it has in its day-to-day purpose. To that end, the design firm took a holistic approach that included new graphics and corporate logo, to match the new first-impression entrance hall and the active workshop space itself. They achieved that with a minimalist design, the clean metallic feel of aluminium, carefully selected lighting, and a modular approach to tie it all together.
Images: RACE and Urdesign
Visitors who step from the elevator into the lobby find themselves in a tunnel-like space of black, webbed with soaring white lines that – much like a visit to a theme park funhouse – beckon one to enter but are a little formidable and disorienting. That's entirely by design, say the architects: RACE wants its guests to feel as though they're stepping into a world and, at least temporarily, leaving one behind.

"From the black envelope of the lift lobby, a custom oversized door pivots open to reveal a dramatic metallic faceted space, creating a contrast that is at once striking yet complementary," MOD explains.
Images: Sohu
What makes the small space work is the flexibility that was designed into the décor. MOD developed a "second skin" of black aluminium screening inside the lab with the interior surfaces reimagined in a series of juts and angles forming the walls and ceilings. Each facet is built with stacked layers of hand-cut hollow aluminium tubing, rotated and mounted in tight, narrow-band rows in different directions. The effect is unusually dramatic, and generates energy in a room built for fairly intimate-sized small groups. That's facilitated by the angular enclaves of defined spaces, while connecting them in black and metal.

"The aluminium screen cladding also serves to cloak the necessary but unsightly mechanical and electrical services while allowing ease of access for operation," the architects say. Since RACE relies heavily on robots, computers and a high demand for power, the electricity needs are high and there are more than a few cords and connections. The black aluminium screens keep the tangle out of sight – or underfoot, in a room where every space counts – but they're accessible through strategic panel doors.
The overall effect is completed with LED lighting strips that boost the cutting-edge feel of the space, while highlighting the almost textured, corduroy-ribbed "cave" look of the walls and the low ceiling.

Ultimately, the designers were able to achieve what RACE wanted: not just a retail showroom, not just a training lab, but rather an entire spatial experience. That works for small clusters of students, while easily accommodating some 30 people for a classroom session, for corporate events or tour visits.
Banner image: Ministry of Design