Our series on college buildings continues with a look at new classroom designs, flexible space, collaboration areas, and the evolving role of the university library.

May 07, 2012

2. FLEXIBILITY: THE KEY TO NEW DESIGNS

At Duke University, Durham, N.C., the Link Teaching and Learning Center—a prototype area for testing new teaching methods—is a new space shared by many departments. Housed in the ground floor of the university’s central library, the technology-rich space is highly flexible to accommodate classes and study groups of varying sizes. A test bed for new classroom design, Duke has undertaken a detailed assessment of the Link for lessons on how other classrooms could be redesigned.

The flexibility to reconfigure space for different uses is built into many collegiate projects today. The Link’s classrooms feature an above-ceiling strut system with power and data connections. Speakers, cameras, microphones, and monitors can be easily installed and moved as needed. An IT support group is housed within the Link for assistance with the technology. Some classrooms have their own connected breakout rooms for group work. A large, open lobby area and wide corridors offer additional space for working groups to use. Large whiteboards on wheels and movable furniture allow groups to create their own nooks.

Furniture in Link classrooms is easily reconfigurable. Each classroom has slides posted on the wall to demonstrate multiple configurations; before class, students rearrange the furniture from these templates. “Faculty don’t want to be responsible for setting up furniture,” says Thomas D. Kearns, AIA, LEED AP, a principal with Shepley Bulfinch, Boston.

The University of North Carolina, Charlotte, recently broke ground on a small-business incubator, the PORTAL, that is designed to take flexibility even further. Most plumbing, electrical, communication, and HVAC systems have been positioned in the ceilings so that the walls can be easily moved or removed. “We looked at using demountable partitions, but the costs didn’t line up,” says Ryan J. Mullenix, AIA, a principal in NBBJ’s Columbus, Ohio, office. The typical small business stays in an incubator for about 39 months, he says, so reconfigurations would not be necessary often enough to justify the cost of demountable partitions. The building will be constructed so that additional wings could be connected on the ground floor at several locations in the future.

Increasingly, universities want flexible spaces that can have multiple uses over their lifetimes. “We’re working with clients to create more modular spaces,” Ziebarth says. For example, by using raised access flooring with displacement ventilation, a space can be inexpensively converted from a 40- to 50-seat classroom to five faculty offices by using movable, interchangeable wall systems.

         
 

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