Toward clarity and engagement

Chatham University Anderson Refectory

Pardon me, but your paradigm seems to be shifting.

It is exciting to come across exceptional and intriguing ideas. I have three little pearls to share from my travels. From two campus visits last week, I came away with a pictorial gem evidencing clarity and a couple of ideas from two inspired deans advancing engagement.

First, the photo – a new entrance provides accessibility and diagrams the crucial characteristics of current-day collegiality for virtually every campus building. The materials are green and there is a bicycle rack. More importantly, there is clarity; the doors and vestibule are transparent, open, welcoming, inviting to activities within. The walkway approach is wide; you can move with the person you are talking to – without need for single filing as others pass by. The critical, hospitable note: there is a bench, a place to linger, to engage, or get a grip on your albatross (or book bag or brief case) before continuing on your trek to other places.

Second, an unusual concept for a learning environment – literally a 360° classroom, if you can imagine. I saw a space tailored to a curriculum, but not necessarily appropriate everywhere else. The space is designed to surround the instructor with 112 students, who are no more than four seats away from the central action. The intent is for the professor to engage and enliven the learning experience, not unlike a talk show emcee. A central podium or counter height table supports the presenter’s laptop and any other materials. Four large flat screens are canted from the ceiling in four directions for benefit of rows 3 and 4; four smaller flat screens back the large ones and are canted in reverse for viewers in rows 1 and 2, as essentially they sit beneath the larger screens. Swivel seats are mounted to the bench tables and swing fully so that group discussions (part of the curriculum) are enabled with those at the tables behind. It is a highly structured learning space, yet adaptable to many activities.

Third, a conception for working space – consider the faculty office as a shared collaborative space, rather than a solitary retreat. This proposal responds to the real limitations of existing space and a finite number of offices, but draws inspiration and focused motivation from what those in the design trades have long known: shared work spaces engender interaction and new ideas. Few architects, landscape architects, or industrial designers isolate themselves in a space when they are productive. In fact, design education usually begins in an open studio setting, where one has an assigned workstation, but shares a reference table, work surface, meeting place. I thought this is an interesting attitude for an evolving academic program. I shall be tracking the proposal as more traditional qualms about faculty work places are discussed; I shall report on the outcomes.

Looking toward new ideas,