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If we build it…

Tuesday, 23 August 2016


If we build it, will they come? This was one of the many questions posed this spring at the Learning Spaces Collaboratory Forum. Shepley Bulfinch, along with other national design and academic leaders, was invited to participate in a series of roundtables, concluding with a national forum in Washington, D.C. The challenge was lofty: to discuss and determine what is “now and next” in classroom design and instruction.

Of particular interest to us was the idea of institutions experimenting with learning spaces, essentially testing, what works today and what will be flexible enough to evolve with changing pedagogies. Experimenting with learning spaces is a tremendous risk for our clients – both politically and financially – as they try to balance faculty and staff expectations with budgetary constraints. As designers, it is our role to collaborate with our clients in order to execute an institution’s strategic initiatives and help push them beyond the traditional classroom or learning space. Measureable outcomes and tools for achieving these outcomes should be established early in a project, which will allow institutions the opportunity to perform cyclical assessments to track the success of a space.

Without a crystal ball, we don’t know what is next, but what we do know is the days of fixed furniture and tiered classrooms are behind us. Similarly, faculty and staff are no longer hidden away in the corner, separated from the “general population.” Instead, we see the rise of the hybrid space: a space agnostic in nature that truly blends the strengths of a college community. A hybrid building mixes disciplines such as arts and engineering but also the faculty and students that make each institution unique. This hybrid model is one that mirrors the most successful private companies, a model that rewards collaboration over individualism.

An example of this hybridization is at Davidson College, where the E. Craig Wall Jr. Academic Building interweaves the Biology, Chemistry, Psychology, and Environmental Studies departments to reinforce the college’s vision of cross-disciplinary exposure. Future plans for the building include integrating arts and humanities curricula into the facility to create a blended environment.

We explore these themes further in our November 1st webinar “Planning of Spaces for Dissolving Disciplinary Boundaries.”

For more information on the Learning Space Collaboratory, and its outcomes visit:

- Janette Blackburn

Janette Blackburn, AIA, LEED AP, is an architect and principal at Shepley Bulfinch and a leader of the firm’s education and libraries practice.

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