“Learning is experience. Everything else is just information.”
For me, successful learning environments are broader than just bricks and mortar – they are a place for the spirit to flourish and the mind to be fed. As Einstein so rightly put it, learning is so much more about experience than it is about the giving and receiving of information. We are all individuals, with our own needs and preferences, and this applies equally to our learning environments. Employers want people who can think intuitively, who can communicate well, work in teams, are flexible, adaptable and self-confident. Creating physical spaces which align and support these interactive education traits will help us create successful, lifelong learners. Our environment inspires and nurtures us and there are few more significant places than the ones in which we learn. So how do we create university environments that are inspiring, that create an ‘experience’ more than just provide learning, and where students and staff actively want to be?
The student experience
The first thing we need to do is create spaces which encourage participation and enhance the student experience. Spaces that students can call their own, where they can mingle with like-minded people or meet individuals from entirely new disciplines that inspire and challenge them. We need to create spaces students can relax or use state of the art facilities that take their career and imagination to new places – all of these spaces help give them a great experience, unique to the individual and to their university.
The Poole Gateway Fusion Building at Bournemouth University’s Talbot Campus is a great example of this. It brings together a disparate set of facilities into a new building which showcases the exceptional qualities of the faculties within. It is the physical embodiment of Bournemouth University’s ‘Fusion’ philosophy, defined as “the powerful fusion of research, education and professional practice, creating a unique academic experience where the sum is greater than the component parts.”
The building will be wrapped in a perforated metal veil, lifted up to create a large scale gateway to the campus and a welcoming beacon to visitors and students alike. Internally, it is designed to be a showcase of the work which takes place there: from the films being created in the sound stage, the world of television being developed in the studios, to the world class animations designed in the creative labs. The building is an embodiment of the process of design, production and editing which nourishes the creative technology industries. For media, communications, science and technology students, this will be an experience unlike any other
Diversity of learning
The second thing we need to do is create space that supports different ways of learning. We typically think of this in three ways:
• Learning through reflection
• Learning through activity and doing
• Learning through interacting with others
The spaces we create can help facilitate and encourage these different kinds of learning. We are also designing the Gateway building at Bournemouth University’s urban campus in the Lansdowne quarter of the city. This building is a great example of diverse learning spaces, with library space for quiet reflection, spaces where students can practice the skills they’ve learned in the classroom through activities and doing, and spaces for teaching and research that encourage staff to interact with each other. This building has to cater for not only undergraduates, but NHS practitioners and CPD students; it has been designed to fulfil the learning requirements of all of these different kinds of students. Architecturally, the building will echo the materials of the Poole Gateway building, although with a more urban response. This will allow the linking of the two sites and unite the student experience across both.
Spaces for collaboration
The third thing we need to do is create spaces for collaboration. These need to be social and convivial spaces that form the heart of the university community. At the University of Wolverhampton, we are helping to create a space that will bring together separate Built Environment faculties, mixing architects and engineers in one combined space. The idea is that this will lead to multidisciplinary collaboration, the kind of cross discipline working the students will need in the real world, where architecture and engineering so often converge on projects.
People are at university because they choose to be there. So to entice them in and keep them there, we need to create spaces that make their hearts soar, and are at their very core fun places to be. Our aim should always be to create spaces that are inspirational and stimulating, and that give students and faculty alike a sense of pride.
So it’s in my view, if you can create spaces that are collaborative, diverse and give people a great experience, you can excite your students and faculty, and make your university campus somewhere they want to be.
Written by Helen Groves, Associate Architect at Atkins Global. Helen is a highly experienced architect who leads our education team in the South West of England and Wales. Helen is passionate about the importance of well-designed education buildings, she works with our clients to develop successful briefs which create exciting and engaging learning spaces.