LEARNING SPACES

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We want your new spaces to be both truly innovative and truly unique. For us this means that we must work with staff and students to design spaces that are exciting, functional, comfortable and look good. We must also be aware of the project in its context and examine the latest thinking and design practice in Universities, Schools and Colleges so that we can learn from others and pass this on.

A couple of months ago we were invited to join a tour of Dutch learning spaces called ‘Crazy spaces make great places’. It was an intriguing title for a tour so we signed up and found ourselves in Rotterdam earlier this year.

We visited a number of places we had only ever seen on the net or read about before including BK City in Delft University of Technology. BK City is the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environ­ment at TU Delft . The design team was led by the dean of the Faculty of Architecture and included a number of teams from various well-known Dutch architects.

The main features of this space are the enormous orange stepped structure, which actually leads nowhere. Students use the steps as a place to meet , to quietly have a coffee and read, to take time out and contemplate, and when invited speakers and artists visit, it is used as a grand­stand. Interestingly it is the structure under the stairs that is most popular as it contains several large collaborative workrooms. Although this is the most often featured space in design journals there are a number of supporting learning spaces including an open plan factory like workshop and a library. There is even a corner of the building where there is a lovely patch of sunlight and a picnic bench is set up on a square of daisy strewn Astroturf.

This space is a little crazy and creative and inspiring. Now we would like to know what kind of space you would like to see. We would love to see your thoughts and ideas in the comments section but if you would prefer you can contribute in the upcoming polls.

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4 thoughts on “LEARNING SPACES

  1. A new humanities building would be great, but it doesn’t need to be incredibly snazzy or cheap and fluorescent orange (I actually can’t imagine anything worse than the picture above, and hope you picked that photo to provoke responses!)

    Those sorts of spaces are cringe-worthy and they look cheap and tacky. Humanities doesn’t need screens absolutely everywhere or to be a Ridiculously Modern Design which shows off the skill of the architects and then dates instantly (the existing building is so 60s that it’s an eyesore, and a few years from now we don’t need the same issue). Most people in Humanities can tend to look beyond surface decoration so it doesn’t need to be extra glitzy either.

    It does need to be clean, light and non-smelly (unlike the existing one) with adequate space for teaching; many smaller offices for those academics who need their own small quiet place to research and meet students confidentially in; and some bigger ones for those who are happy to share; a nice café and meeting space. Space is the big one here.

    Good luck! Looking forward to seeing how this develops 🙂

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  2. Above all the spaces need to be flexible (eg not fixed seats/tables tiered lecture theatres).A variety of different sized spaces for collaborative work and social learning spaces.
    The open plan design here would not work in a building which is essentially designed for teaching and learning. It looks more suitable for a library.
    My favourite open plan space is this one: http://sites.gsu.edu/curve/

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  3. First and foremost, all university buildings for the humanities should on principle be round and very slowly but constantly revolve around themselves, following the thought captured so fittingly by Francis Picabia: “Our head is round to enable change of thought direction”. The Humanities are the faculty studying culture. Only the circle metaphor embodied in round moving buildings can do justice to the endless flexibility of the mind as it presents itself in culture. The circle resp. ball is a fourfold image: for the physical head, the human spirit expanding in all possible directions, the moving earth we need to preserve, and the ever-expanding three-dimensional universe that has caused the existence of this beautiful planet.

    Second, the most basic truth of design is: form follows function. However, the blog entry above, as indeed all entries of the IF-bloggers hitherto, seem to hold the belief that university buildings should “impress” and that latest university architecture fashions should figure in design journals worldwide and thus be leaders in the field of design and architecture for educational bodies. But design journals are like their customers, namely designers and related professionals, often feting extreme l’art pour l’art, but not a down-to-earth design for students (or lecturers, at that). I argue it would do the Humanities at Warwick good if available financial resources for and the valuable time of current students and lecturers were not exploited to discuss design ideas for the mere sake of it.

    Staying with the students, they actually expect different things from their university than design-award winning architecture. They want to study under intellectually stimulating conditions made for human beings, with first-rate teaching by friendly, skilled lecturers in an encouraging tight-woven community. Regarding buildings and surroundings, students want sufficient learning facilities of all required types, especially individual working space – and less of the oh so fashionable open floor group work type. Further, students expect excellent public transport to and fro Campus at a minimum hour level of 20/24. They need proper accommodation and healthy nourishment at modest prices, a good share of socialising, entertainment and sports, and overall, a functioning work-life-balance. In short, they have similar wishes resp. wishes corresponding to those of the lecturers – for whom university buildings are, after all, their life-long work environment.

    Interestingly, two notions seem to be completely absent from your purely design-oriented “If”-concept: the crucial relationship between the usefulness of a building and the investment made to build it, and the paradigm that a building for education purposes must be constructed with the multiple purpose in mind of architectural endurance over decades or even centuries, of supporting wellbeing, health, learning, teaching and researching, and of creating as little an ecological footprint and as small an investment as possible, both regarding the building as such and its maintenance.

    It may come as a surprise to post-modern designers loving huge open plan factory-like halls dwarfing human beings to the extent of rendering them to insect-sized things crawling within gigantic buildings – that such spaces are crap for learning unless you want a learning site for airplane construction. Likewise, huge glass/steel/concrete constructions have often horrible results of endless hassle and huge expenditure for cleaning and maintenance, especially if equipped with the notoriously unsafe flat roofs sooner or later beginning to leak. If insisting on flat roofs for educational buildings, architects should at least be aware of the multiple purposes of such things as a roof garden or roof terrace.

    Architectural structures need to generally contribute to wellbeing & health. This includes for universities and other educational buildings a return to natural renewable construction materials such as wood including e.g. fascinatingly durable, flexible yet very light structures made of bamboo. Then there is renewable insulation, and of course, every educational building should have a very quiet and green area surrounding it. While the current Warwick Campus is green, it is hardly ever quiet, not even in late evenings, due to continuous traffic noise – and way too much of the campus is currently abused for parking.

    Architects constructing university buildings seem to want to ignore the crucial dynamic threefold impact of nature, change and daylight on human beings. Buildings should avoid boredom of the type provided so amply by the current boring rectangular Warwick Humanities building with its endless straight uniform corridors in horribly uniform and horribly tasteless colours, where one floor looks like the next, one wall and door like the next, and in which one quite often needs to walk over two hundred yards to the next toilet. Daylight is also a must for teaching rooms and offices. Regarding artificial light, I pray the day may arrive when architects learn how to avoid flooding uniform 24/7/365 neon light. Avoiding pollution of air, earth and water is not enough, we need to also avoid pollution by noise and light. Energy-saving methods should figure largely in architecture if it calls itself state of the art. Here, the purpose of wellbeing and energy-saving can be achieved by the same construction lines: University buildings should avoid wrong lighting, beginning with orientating the building properly in a given landscape on the northern hemisphere. Here, we should have no rectangular buildings stretching from east to west, since this creates both energy problems for the building, weakening its very structures prematurely as well as causing masses of south- resp. north-oriented rooms that systematically rob us of the chance for wellbeing: one side of the building gets all light and warmth which makes indoor-working in summer very difficult, the other gets all coldness and permanent shadow leading to chronic fatigue and/or winter depression.

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    • Thanks so much for taking the time to send us your views for a Humanities Building. We’re with you on moving away on the ‘endless straight uniform corridors’! Your comments are really thought provoking and it’ll be great to see others join in on this discussion, especially the students requirements for learning facilities.

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