Interiors in universities and colleges traditionally have had a very institutional feel to them with uniform colours and uniform furniture throughout. The setting out of classrooms has followed a pattern established within the church of rows of seats and desks with a teacher at the front of the class addressing the students as a preacher might address his congregation.
It has become increasingly apparent that this ‘one size fits all’ approach is not always appropriate or conducive to the 21st century learning experience. Oblinger talks about the importance of harmonising space with learning theory. She recommends that the space and the furniture within it should be flexible enough for quick reconfiguration; that there should be sensory stimulation (as ‘antiseptic’ environments do not focus attention) and that comfort is a major consideration (as discomfort distracts us from learning).
Technical support should be available and the space should be ‘de-centred’ with no ‘front’ of the room – this is to encourage a focus on learning, not experts. She also emphasises that an holistic approach should be taken – the entire campus is a learning environment.
Taking all of these factors on board it is important to spend time on planning and designing the learning space in order to achieve the best possible outcomes.
The majority of staff and students (more than 60 per cent) agreed that the cosmetic and environmental features that impact most upon the way they feel and behave were the decoration, furnishings and furniture within the buildings.
good quality higher education requires good quality environments
Design with distinction, 2005
The report by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) cited above reinforces the importance of providing a quality environment to your users. In a time of competition within the marketplace it is important that you endeavour to gain as much of an advantage as possible and the establishing of an attractive and innovative learning space could prove to be an opportunity to do that.
Mark Haysom, chief executive (2003-2009) of the Learning and Skills Council (LSC closed in April 2010 but material available from government archive), expressed this when he said:
I believe passionately that when you walk through the door of a place of learning, you should feel proud, uplifted, motivated… that should be our intent
Design is of course a very personal issue and you will need to work closely with your team of specialist advisers to ensure that your design reflects your vision and instils a sense of unity and harmony throughout the build. We hope however that the following quotes and examples may give you some ideas to help you along.
We recommend that you think hard about what is essential to your vision at this stage as interior design elements are often the first items to fall by the wayside if finances become tight as the project progresses.