The Spatial Constructs of Creative Situations

The LSC received support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to explore what can be known about spaces for creativity in the undergraduate setting and to identify a next set of issues and questions to be explored. Members of the working group included researchers, academics and architects with wonderfully diversity of relevant experiences. Their work, which informed the evolution of the LSC Guide, sets the stage for the January 2014 LSC webinar on "common spaces."

Reflections on The Spatial Constructs of Creative Situations, by Meredith Bostwick-Lorenzo Eiroa, challenged us to think more metaphorically about such spaces--to move from the banality of "common" spaces to descriptors such as:

  • Bookable Space
  • "How might we" space
  • Shop Space
  • White Space

Through collaborations with the LSC, we have found is that there is no precise or prescriptive “recipe” for the design of generic creative space.  In favor of spaces which offer the full affordances of creativity, each institution must evaluate its own unique “DNA” or its own inherent qualities and genetic characteristics which have to potential to frame a unique and performative creative campus in order to maximize its own unique potential for creative situations.  Meredith’s LSC-contribution to the Sloan Foundation proposed several typologies of creative spaces, that are rooted in radical ideas, social interaction, and creativity, including:

Bookable Space
As 21st Century learners are increasingly nomadic by nature.  Bookable Space encourages nomadic populations to utilize a shared-system of spaces by leveraging on-demand, anytime, anywhere accessibility.  An institution can thus provide a “fleet” of unassigned spaces that offers a variety of spatial choices for an individual’s or groups’ creative need.  In addition, a mobile app or web-based application can provide bookable capability for a variety of space-needs varying in scale and duration for: conferences, meetings, teaming, group or individual study.  Bookable Space is unassigned space, which attracts on-demand accessibility while encouraging an increasingly nomadic population to utilize (and share) under-utilized institutional space.  Institutions may also utilize visible branding to encourage spontaneous use and awareness of available space resources.  On a departmental level, Bookable Space encourages a sustainable use of existing “loose” spaces in a building which are not currently utilized to their full potential.  Bookable Space is equipped with smart technology (projectors, smart boards, writable walls, WiFi, power) and agile furnishings (mobile, foldable tables and chairs) to adapt to and facilitate a variety of needs and quick reconfigurations.  

“How Might We”  Space
The “How Might We...?” approach has been used by creative companies for decades, but the origins can be traced back to Min Basadur and his early days as creative manager at Procter & Gamble.  His premise?  Language can inhibit creativity instead of encouraging it: instead of asking “How can we?” or “How should we?” Basadur argues that companies who ask “How might we?”  provides creative confidence.  “Might” acknowledges that some ideas may fail, while “We” implies collaboration.  Edwin Land, the visionary co-founder of Polaroid and holder of more than 500+ patents acknowledges that an essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail.  “Scientists made a great invention by calling their activities hypotheses and experiments.  They made it permissible to fail repeatedly until in the end they got the results they wanted.”  Creative activity is implicit in tinkering, trusting intuition, illustrating or sketching thought, making errors and mistakes, exploring the full realm of possibilities, and entertaining curiosity through experimentation.  “How Might We” Space provides the affordances for problem-based learning and active learning.  It provides a place to ask a question and encourages a constructive response, and a place to propose new, alternative means to achieve results.  It is a place for collaborative learning and creativity – with an emphasis on “we” – where the group “might” find solutions to problems together.  The environmental factors for externalizing creativity in How Might We Space are key.  How Might We Space “may” create a room within a room for private and semi-private conversations, for example.  

Shop Space
Not all creative space is “finished” - in fact one could argue that the space which has the potential to be the most creative is that which remains to be defined.  Shop Space is an unfinished space – a hanger, machine shop, or warehouse quality space.  It is a bare-boned space, rough around the edges to ignore perfection, in favor of exploring multiple study models, rough drafts, prototypes and hypotheses.  To encourage “big thinking” and offer the space needed to work around larger prototypes and projects, shop space is often double-height, lofted space.  It is a space to breakdown, disassemble, and reassemble devices through experimentation.  Its “unfinished” quality encourages a dynamic fun space to tinker, fail, and “figure things out.”  It is a garage space where tinkering is allowed (and expected).  Shop space can be utilized as collective workshops for semi-organized free-form experimentation – showcasing makers and inventors, inviting local industry partners to participate with the opportunities exhibit student projects and actively collaborate, interact and inform yet to be realized student projects and inventions.


White Space
Director of the MIT Media Lab, Joichi Ito describes the Media Lab as, “as a place where we use undirected research to discover answers to questions that we haven’t asked yet because you don’t know to look there yet.”  Ito notes that “novel, disruptive discoveries are often found by searching in spaces where you don't know the answer, or even what you're looking for.”  What he terms, “white spaces” are the spaces where “we learn along the way” – those spaces which are adjacent to “the areas which contain our core skills and knowledge.”  As a space, it’s outside of the everyday, utilitarian, and productive path.  It is a space that is a-contextual – where one is forced to comprehend or understand things differently.  White space serves as a space for the unguided, playful derive where curiosity, questioning, and searching can occur.  It is an untainted, un-biased contiguous space where serendipity has free reign – where one is given the permission to exercise free-association.  By nature of it being on the edge - the physical border of the wall comes into play.  It is a space that is clear of clichés, mess and confusion.  White space provides a blank canvas that awaits feedback – and that is elicited through its white walls for “pin-ups” and contiguous writeable surfaces inviting divergent thinking and spontaneous discussion.