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Making it personal

The designers of educational spaces can take on lessons already learnt in the workplace, says Adrian Campbell

Posted by Dave Higgitt | April 21, 2015 | Facilities & buildings

When it comes to design, it’s always tempting to think in broad terms: you plan a space based on what ‘people’ need. This approach is not wrong, but when it comes to designing workplaces, architects and designers have been sharpening their focus to look at the needs of the individual.

By understanding individuality and how to accommodate the different ways in which people work, we can increase the creativity, productivity and efficiency of those around us. This ideology is already present in the widespread adaptation of open-plan spaces in the working world and is now being translated to the design of educational environments.

The success of flexible, adaptable spaces in the workplace has permeated training facilities, schools, colleges and universities. Designers are looking at how they can cater to the needs of a variety of teaching and learning styles, including both collaborative and focused work. There is also a heightened understanding of the importance of restaurant areas, spaces that are tailored to support staff and areas where learners can share ideas and discussion in between structured classes.

As well as individualisation, architects and designers are developing flexible solutions that can be adapted when space is at a premium. Examples include ‘pods’ in open-plan areas, which not only offer acoustic benefits, but also create ad-hoc working and meeting spaces for smaller numbers. Solutions such as mobile soft seating allow for a quick transition from a traditional classroom layout to breakout groups with minimal disruption.

This type of flexibility is integral to any classroom, university, library or training space. Teaching is informed by classroom dynamics, by the individual needs of different pupils and by the questions raised as a direct result of group interaction. Equally, one of the most valuable capabilities that can be taught in any training session is the ability to take ownership of work and produce it independently, understanding how this impacts on oneself and the group.

Teaching staff and designers have also made the case for embracing new technology as a credible means of promoting personalisation, collaboration and authenticity in learning environments. Online exercises and portable technology are fast succeeding pens and paper by sustaining interest among students and encouraging working and communication outside the classroom.

Designers are specifying products that accommodate and encourage the use of technology such as seating with a table to place a laptop or tablet or bench seating in waiting areas with integrated power outlets to allow charging of devices.

In an educational environment we need space to move, engage and collaborate, but more importantly we need to work to our individual strengths. We now have the opportunity to think differently about planning these spaces and tailor them to suit a new generation of students and an emerging millennial workforce.

Adrian Campbell is head of workplace design at The Senator Group

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