When you look back at your university experience, how much of what you remember took place in a lecture hall? Often our best and most lasting memories of university are of what happened outside the classroom – when we were meeting new people, making friends and creating things we never thought possible with our hands and minds.
The new School of Architecture and the Built Environment at the University of Wolverhampton aims to create these kinds of inspirational places for students to work and study – all on a shared campus devoted to the promotion of excellence in the built environment. The spaces have been designed to support students achieving more through collaboration, a concept the university hopes will inspire and reinforce health and wellbeing.
Key to this will be encouraging students’ curiosity and innovative thinking by breaking down the traditional barriers between academic and practical learning. Half of the new school will be allocated to standard, digitally-enabled teaching facilities, with the other half dedicated to studio and testing facilities where students can learn by doing. Visual connections into these practical learning spaces will allow students to watch other students, from other disciplines, as they create and innovate in various labs and studios. Some spaces, for example the architectural model making and 3D printing studios, are co-located, encouraging engineering students to rub shoulders with architectural students and inspire each other with new ideas and ways of working. Cutting edge, shared digital facilities like these will be a key enabler to encouraging students to come up with and test new ideas.
The focal point of these shared studio spaces will be a dramatic, double height laboratory hub and testing space that includes a gantry crane for large scale construction and structural testing projects. This will be overlooked by mezzanines and circulation spaces so that students and visitors can watch as these gigantic projects come together. Our hope is that this will create the ‘wow’ factor that will help the university attract new students and staff.
Overall, our design intent has been to make visible the benefits of studio based, creative working environments. This includes the creation of dramatic, top lit design studios and flexible open plan studios overlooking adjacent shared and connecting spaces. Through these, the university hopes to encourage the supportive peer-to-peer culture common in architecture schools.
The multi-disciplinary workshops and ‘super studios’ we’ve created will be available to everyone, not just design students. Our aim is to encourage the typical civil engineering student, who might have previously gone to his/her lecture then straight home, to stay at the school after their lecture and work in the joint lab spaces. Like architectural students, we’ll provide them a ‘base’ on campus, extending the amount of time they spend there and allowing them to benefit from a highly positive, creative and supportive environment.
This idea of bringing students from every discipline together also has a ‘real world’ benefit as once they leave university they’ll likely find themselves working in teams, and, as is often the case with large built environment projects, in multi-disciplinary teams. Wolverhampton’s new School of Architecture and the Built Environment will break down the physical and visual barriers between all the built environment disciplines to develop a strong ethos of group working, peer support, greater networking and collaboration. All essential for promoting better wellbeing amongst students.