Reporting out from the March 2016 LSC Roundtable at Georgia Institute of Technology

The LSC Roundtables are designed as an opportunity for a small group of reflective practitioners—academics and architects—to examine questions driving recent facilities initiatives on campuses across the country and to bring their diverse experience, expertise and passions to a collaborative discussion about questions to drive the future of planning learning spaces. Roundtables are sparked by individual reflections on questions that were posed in architectural studies. They are then examined in a beginning conversation in which broad themes were identified to be explored in depth by small working groups. The heart of the roundtables is the presentation and critique in the final session. 

Questions Driving Planning Learning Spaces—Two Critical Questions 
Randy Kray - HOK; Chuck Mummert - Flad Architects; Jorge Vanegas - Texas A&M University

The responsible campus team should be asking:

  • Have we asked, watched, and learned sufficiently about our people, spaces, and culture as we enter into the planning process, before we move forward with planning and implementation strategies? 
  • How can we change the status quo?

The fundamental issue we were interested in is the idea about having old guard faculty and new guard—whatever terminology we might use. What we explored were ways to bring those different groups together in a way that could be helpful and productive by the end of the planning process in terms of the learner’s experience.

We have an image of planning that focuses on the people: educators—those who teach; students—those who learn, and the administrators—those who oversee teaching and learning. These are three quite different tribes.

Where they all come together is at the point of governance, which is where the status quo can be addressed. Governance is where the intersections that define institutional culture come together, where motivation—be it intrinsic or extrinsic must to be attended to. At the intersection where they come together is governance, which brings us to the point of dealing with the status quo, which can be neither top-down or bottom-up. In the middle, where all this begins to come together, are the intersections that define institutional culture, where motivation—be it intrinsic or extrinsic—must be attended to. To put it another way, this is about understanding needs and wants, about knowing what works in a given space for a particular student. 

What we gravitated to were the questions of motivating the people resisting the change and of how to enable people in a constructive and methodical way to move forward in thinking about where we want the pedagogy, the spaces, curriculum to go (recognizing institutional cultural differences).

Here is the key question we thought should be driving the future:

Are we spending enough time asking watching, and listening to find out the nature of the student body, the administrative body, the body of faculty before moving forward with the planning to be able to understand where the frustrations, the obstacles for success are—for each group before moving forward with the planning to be able to understand where the frustrations, the obstacles for success are—for each group, for each “tribe?”

Our concern was about process, and this was in part a conversation about process, but all of us were concerned that too often in the early stages of planning we always jump too quickly to what a "forward-looking" model, starting to ask “what-if” and thinking about prototyping without really taking time to understanding who the stakeholders are.

We borrowed the issue of design thinking from IDEO. Their approach to problem-solving is to ask, watch, learn, and try. This obviously goes hand-in-hand with evidence-based design…perhaps more prevalent in health, but it can be applied to our work too.

So, if you look at our graphic, you can see how we were beginning to put together elements of a story about planning learning spaces—and about the spaces themselves. By talking about their story, we are talking about something that is fluid, can adapt, grow, evolve. Following their presentation, one roundtable colleague commented:

Comment:

I think that architects look at space very differently than faculty do. I’m pondering about how different architects approach the "problem" of spaces than those of us on the academic side—what each of us is missing in how we approach this. I think it is really powerful to get people with different approaches together, exploring the strengths of each approach.

Response:

#1. Right, but here is where we talked about the power of stories, how to use narratives and storytelling about what happens on your campus—a day in the life of a student, faculty member, administrator - about using stories about today to create stories that you will be able to tell about the spaces into the future. Then build your planning approaches around the strategies it will take for those fictions or narratives to actually come true.

#2. We discussed the idea of faculty not knowing how to utilize or harness the power of new kinds of spaces, so we thought that part of storytelling would be to expose faculty to ways others are using spaces, here and perhaps around the world. So stories can contribute to the process of visioning what a particular kind of building or design project might be.

Stories are actually integral to a learning space. They reinforce everything. But the fact is that the stories about spaces are about people, for people, from people and to people. I think this captures the essence of our conversation, but we must end with noting that it is all about students. Without students you don’t need administrators; you don’t need teachers.