When most people think of SUTD, the arts isn’t usually something associated with the school. It is, after all, a university focused on technology and design.
However, if you look beneath the surface, you will find a culture of the arts that is both vibrant and bustling with constant activity. That is why we spoke with three students to get the inside scoop, and how the arts even shaped how they approach their academics.
Bringing the passion for music to SUTD
Around campus, Joshia Seam is known to many as the ‘resident pianist’ of SUTD. The Information Systems Technology and Design (ISTD) junior can often be found playing at the Campus Centre during one of the Lunchtime Performances.
“I was in the Music Elective Program in Junior College, and back then practising the piano was like an obsession. While I do enjoy performing, I strive for perfection in many areas of my life, and music is no different,” Joshia expressed with the deep passion of a true artist.
“It is fantastic that Associate Provost Lim Seh Chun donated the piano to the Campus Centre. It has added a lot of life to the space,” says the intrepid pianist-turned-coder as he sat down to play us one of his favourite pieces at the Campus Center. We’d have to agree on that point, as anyone who spends time there will attest to the pleasing melodies from the piano often being played, whether it’s during a Lunchtime Performance, or in the middle of the afternoon.
Kickstarting the urban sketching community
But enjoying performances isn’t the only way you can be involved in the arts within SUTD. Hendriko Teguh Sangkanparan, an Architecture and Sustainable Design (ASD) student is one such example of someone doing his part to contribute to the arts community in SUTD. Apart from having founded and running Sketchers, SUTD’s official urban sketching interest group, he is also involved in Vocomotives (the acapella Fifth Row club) as well as Productions (the video production club).
When asked about why he started Sketchers, Hendriko excitedly told us, “I’m involved with the urban sketching scene in Singapore, and I love it when people come together to pursue ideas that excite them. Everyone can draw and has an intrinsic artistic ability, but sometimes you just need someone to do it together.”
An open and inclusive culture of the arts
The Sketchers group holds weekly sketching activities where participants of any level can sketch and learn about sketching. “That’s how I started as well. While I enjoyed drawing when I was young, I only came to urban sketching a few years ago, and the community was very welcoming to a beginner, so I’d like to do that for Sketchers as well.” Hendriko relates as he sat down to demonstrate a quick watercolour sketch – the current style he is pursuing.
They have a Telegram group that lets people know when sessions happen. You can find them at https://t.me/usksutd
This open and inviting culture is the norm rather than the exception for Fifth Row clubs, with many of them having activities for people without any prior experience. Michelle Chandiari, a Junior in Engineering Product Design (EPD) relates her experience with joining, and then performing with Scratch, the Fifth Row club for aspiring DJs.
“I was already into trance when I came to SUTD. During my freshmore year, I realised that there was already a group of like-minded people with whom I could share this passion with. I joined Scratch completely fresh, and they welcomed me even though I’m just a girl without any DJ experience. They created a safe environment for me to explore, and to find what I truly like within DJ-ing. It’s been really enjoyable ever since. I even got to perform at St James Powerstation at a packed SUTD event with Nicholas, who plays regular gigs to the public!”
A vibrant culture of cross collaborations
This event at Millian in St James Power Station was a collaboration between SUTD Bands, Scratch and Multiverse in 2016. As she fondly recalls, “After the bands played their sets, we performed as a duo to an almost full venue. It was really crowded. Because many of us knew each other from classes and living in the hostel the energy was fantastic and everyone was very supportive.”
Events like these seem more like the norm than the exception. When asked about the arts culture in SUTD, Hendriko proudly explains that “it’s a vibrant place – with Fifth Rows like the Dance clubs and SUTD bands doing a lot – they have a lot of people involved and work with other Fifth Rows too. In fact, Dance DerivativeZ just had their production Byte 1.0 and it was amazing – a lot of hard work went into that.”
At the intersection of art and science
If you think that being involved with the arts has benefits solely from a student life perspective, you’d be wrong.
“The arts enables you to think more broadly about what it is you’re trying to do, which is essential when it comes to design thinking. By drawing on these separate domains of knowledge, you can come up with new approaches and solutions.” Joshia replies when asked about his experience being both a developer and a pianist.
It works the other way too. When it comes to working on his architecture coursework, Hendriko increasingly makes use of coding for his designs, “I love it that my designs are now parametrically designed using code to simulate different circumstances. Like a painter has his paintbrushes and paint, I use the code to achieve the artistic vision for my project.”
Humanities Arts and Social Science (HASS) as a competitive advantage
At SUTD, each undergraduate also takes up to seven HASS modules, covering areas such as sociology and philosophy. This gives students a unique edge as they are equipped with more than just technical know-how.
“As an EPD student, the HASS modules taught me to understand the audience for my products better. It puts me in their shoes to consider how and why they use a given product, giving me insight into designing a product that is useful for them.” Michelle elaborates.
As for Joshia, he believes that the HASS modules have helped him better question assumptions. “Engineers should understand different domains, and HASS has helped me better understand how and why to do things. The design-centric curriculum at SUTD is one of the big reasons I came here.”
His belief is definitely well-founded. If our alumni are anything to go by, their experience in the working world shows that SUTD’s unique blend of technical and HASS training has given them a competitive edge and to be more attractive to the market. After all, who wouldn’t want someone on their team who is able to come up with and then execute on innovative solutions?