Design for (student) life
Amongst my many interests, I’m an armchair enthusiast of architecture & design. Whilst I’d heard of the futuristic 1960’s architecture group Archigram in passing, I’d not heard of founding member Sir Peter Cook, who presented a Lunch Hour Lecture at UCL yesterday. His talk was on “Designing for Students”, a peek inside some former and current projects in educational spaces.
He began by highlighting the way the young people tend to arrange themselves informally, but are then frequently taught in controlled, grey concrete boxes that don’t necessarily promote the open discussions and creative that we’re trying to develop in our students. The building also needs to take into account the work practices and the rituals of the academic community, such as posters, art installations and demonstration areas.
In his buildings, Cook uses flowing, organic concrete shapes, blending these in with plants, and places small breakout areas throughout. He showed a current project for the School of Architecture at Bond University, Queensland, to demonstrate the shapes and space, as well as the construction and design compromises needed to deal with glaring sunlight.
To illustrate the way in which the students and staff might use the space and have a relationship with the building, Cook drew a series of wry vignettes of academics & students in typical conversations and situations around the campus. We might recognise some of them: a rather snooty academic questioning a student’s approach to a topic; a student who’s more likely to be seen in the bar than in the lecture theatre; a showcase event to promote the institution. With financial and spacial constraints, such beautiful design is not always attainable, and even on this project a workshop area had to be moved to some “tin sheds” round the back of the building rather than in the core where people could observe the activity.
But when considering the teaching and intersitial spaces we should think about how people work and share, and how it presents the organisation to visitors and prospective students. Coincidentally, this came up only yesterday morning as we debate the usage of our department’s lobby areas. Do we maintain a clean space, a calm area for breakouts, or an open area where our students can test and demonstrate their programmable robots?
It could be that our emphasis on space and organisation here is a reflection of our Engineering disciplines – a desire to optimise and maximise efficiency. But are we missing opportunities to foster creative and interdisciplinary work, and advertise ourselves to the wider academic community?