In a recent research visit to The Aalto University of Helsinki’s Design Factory my aim was to research and explore innovative learning space ideas that could be incorporated in to the vision for the new multi million pound building project at City University. Here I am posting about one particular learning space that is innovative, practical and upholds their student centred pedagogy.
The space background
Called “The Stage” this is a flat learning space for up to 100 students, it was not purpose built but is a visionary re-design, on a low budget, of an existing space previously used by the Engineering School. Double height, with no windows, an upper viewing gallery, and with ban on altering any existing structural features, it almost entirely replicated the existing Sports Hall space in the basement at Northampton Square.
Student involvement in the design
Students at The Learning Factory are drawn from different Schools, including Engineering, Informatics and Product Design Development. At Aalto the student voice matters and the ethos is to give students the power to envisage and co-design the learning space they need. And then to fully support the realisation of that space. Students must of course fully justify their design ideas.
Design Features for The Stage space
- completed on a very low budget
- No existing load bearing structural features have been altered
- any existing features have been mined for their collaborative and situational learning potential: the existing open gallery has been glazed and transformed into three seminar rooms
- audio visual -there are three screens, two at one end of the space, and one at the opposite end. There is a state of the art sound, computer, and audio desk.
- furniture – Low cost bright, attractive and tough stackable IKEA chairs, plus easily moved white tables on wheels, that can be folded down, taking up little space when stored
- lighting – a theatre type flexible lighting rig that can be used for a multitude of purposes.
This is a multi-use learning space. Teachers can easily configure the space for their particular learning session needs: lecture, interactive class session, or a combination. The furniture is easily moved and if needed help is given by technical staff back up. The space can also be used for more performance based events, by staff and or students, and visitors, and also evening music, film and performance events.
At the Don’t Walk Away, Have Your Say LDC event in March 2013, I ran a stand specificaly to engage and listen to student views and ideas on the types of learning spaces they wanted. An artist helped students to envisage their ideas by doing quick sketches on the spot. It was clear that students are deeply interested in the physical spaces they learn in at City, and are well able to imagine and put forward innovative design ideas. A key idea was a mult-use space, as part of the menu of learning spaces. Such a space can not only serve as a lecture space and large reconfigurable classroom, but can also be a stage for events, films and exhibitions. Students said that they don’t have such a space at City. This space at Aalto was achieved by listening to the student voice, and on a very limited budget, utilising an existing space without any major structural alterations. From my interviews with staff and students there, it has proved an incredibly effective learning space.