Designing effective spaces for working and learning: How to avoid the factory, the treadmill and the waiting room

IMG_2599In my international travels I’ve seen many amazing schools, universities and libraries, some that are visually stunning, but often there is something missing. Designing spaces for effective work and learning requires the connection of three distinct ‘spaces’ – cultural, technological and physical – each in harmony. When one is missing you are stuck in…

 

…a waiting room, a factory or a treadmill.

Cross-pollination is a healthy thing. I look for opportunities to experience new contexts, learn about other sectors and meet people in different professional fields. This broadens the scope of  my experience and challenges mindsets. Over the last 12 months I have enjoyed connecting with James Kemp MD at Amicus Interiors. On the one hand Amicus (which is Latin for ‘friend’) Interiors could be described as a furniture company for office fit-outs, but on the other, and more realistically,

IMG_0016The brand personifies the business and represents the foundation of trust that we place at the centre of our company culture. We are an enthusiastic, friendly team and we love what we do…

We have developed a solid reputation for meticulous care and attention to all our work. This reputation has been built upon an underlying commitment to our clients, to understand, and plan for, the key issues and challenges that surround the delivery of each project.

James visited NBCS and was struck by the similarity of our school and the work of his company, he wrote on the company blog:

Led by the inspirational principal, Stephen Harris, they have created an Activity Based Working (ABW) environment at NBCS for the children to learn, develop and have fun. If you had told me it was possible to have over 180 year 5 & 6 children working effectively (and quietly!!) in one open plan area, I would not have believed you! But when you see it in operation it is truly inspiring.

These children are given the trust, responsibility, the technology and the right support from their facilitators (the ‘teachers’) to excel. Whether they are sitting at desk, on the floor in small work groups, on sofas or beanbags, they are working away with excitement. I loved it. (Read the full blog here.)

I first came across the idea of Activity Based Work (ABW) a couple of years ago after visiting a CBD corporate refit and wrote a few blogs (like this one) about it as I believed that this approach to the work environment had much to inform the educational context, a corollary to James’ inspiration for NBCS informing work spaces.

Amicus InteriorsJames and I caught up last week, to see the transformation of the Amicus Interiors office in Martin Place in Sydney as an Activity Based Work(place). This was my first opportunity to see the new fit out. We talked about how the team are adapting and changing to work in an ABW environment. As with anything that involves people, the shift to change takes them on a journey – no fixed desks, closed and open collaborative meeting areas and close co-location with colleagues.

 

 

In our lively discussions about the places of work and learning, James highlighted the three types of spaces that must inform the effective place of work (and learning):

  • Cultural space – the way we do things around here
  • Technological space – the tools that enable
  • Physical space – the surroundings that support the work and relationships

Each of these play a crucial role to encourage innovation and creativity and foster productivity.

What happens if something is missing?

Factory Treadmill Waiting Room

When we are thinking about the redesign, refit and transformation of learning spaces, how do these three elements interplay? In 2015 NBCS ‘Project Barcelona’ will be complete – a space that is open, social and connecting. It involves new ways of thinking about school, spaces and learning for the 21st Century. Right now we are gearing up to look at what is needed to optimise the space and prepare our staff:

  • Cultural space – how will the community shift their thinking about school and then own and embrace the space
  • Technological space – what tools and infrastructure are required for the space to function as intended
  • Physical space – how will the fit out, the zones and the movement meet the dreams and aspirations for connection

@anneknock

Some other posts to check out:

Every space tells a story: Is your library the community’s living room? 6xCs to shaping your narrative.

In the libraryI have a soft spot for libraries. I started my teaching career in a primary school as the teacher librarian. This isn’t usually the first job for a young graduate, but it was mine. I loved reading to the children, making author and theme related display, but most of all, seeing the children explore the world of literature and their own passions for learning.

Learning Spaces

Learning Spaces Making more effective learning environments  is an online journal by Imaginative Minds

The most recent edition (Vol 2.2  2014) has an article “Libraries for the future of all users” (by Lee Taylor).

The key function shift from one of “collector” to “connector” – where the primary purpose has moved from one of collecting books, information or music, to one providing a range of people the opportunity to use this space to connect intellectually and physically – a kind of “living room” for the city.

Have you ever considered the library as your school of community living room? This can happen when there is a shift from “collector” to “connector”.  Prioritising people over things.

What characterises a people-focused, future-focused library?

It’s a place for connection, where people’s needs are understood. In this article Taylor makes connections with new community libraries in the cities of Newcastle and Manchester in the UK, by Ryder Architecture. Both of these projects:

  • minimised staff spaces
  • maximisation of public/shared space
  • book collections mechanised for efficiency
  • provide varied places for different types of work
  • variety of collections that respond to community interests
  • welcoming entrance space

These points contrast to the libraries of the past:

  • books front and centre
  • command and control culture
  • task and process oriented staff
  • large designated staff work spaces to hide away
  • one large controlled space where silence is reinforced
  • facing barriers to entering

The architects decided that to make the library the community living room the users needs were important, that it was a shared and community-owned space. This meant that the designed included things like easily accessible power charging points and that the design was able to accommodate mixed mode study. I think we can all relate, I often have my laptop, iPad, mobile phone, paper, pens spread out around me when I’m working.

Newcastle City Library and Manchester Central Library are characterised by welcoming entrances. Generous and comfortable, a space to linger, where library-users can catch up for coffee.

So if it time to rethink your library, where do you start?

If you are thinking about making changes to a space, to make it more person-centres there are a few things to think about. I have synthesised these into 6xCs

  1. Community: All stakeholder needs considered
  2. Connection: Design space for connection and working styles
  3. Collections: Placement and storage of resources, books, artefacts
  4. Communication: The verbal and non-verbal messages conveyed
  5. Comfort: Fit out meet users’ needs  – furniture, air, light, technology, modes
  6. Cool: The space is interesting, attractive, inviting, fun and quirky

Here is a process to facilitate your team’s thinking and action steps for change:

1. Articulate the aspirations of the 6xCs for your context

  1. Community
  2. Connection
  3. Collections
  4. Communication
  5. Comfort
  6. Cool

2. Gather your working group, go on a field trip and have lunch together.

Visit recent developments in your city how do these spaces interpret the 6xCs:

  • City offices with a variety of places for working and connecting
  • Community libraries
  • Incubator/co-working spaces
  • University libraries and social spaces

Look again at your 6xCs and create a statement of aspiration for each.

City sights

3. Develop your strategy

A. What is the current situation?

B. Describe the library what you want to see.

C. What are the pathways from A to B? Can you prioritise them?

D. What are major barriers and obstacles to achieving your B?

E. Now, what will you do:

  • Within a week
  • Within a month
  • This year
  • Within 2 years

This is the kind of process I enjoy working through with groups – Identifying their A, dreaming about their B and then developing the strategy to get there. Let me know if I can help you with your change process.

I’m also thinking about a Library Learning Space Study tour to the UK. Looking at community, university and school libraries. Interested?

@anneknock

Every space tells a story. Is yours a place that supports the work of innovation? 10 Ideas to ponder

A few years ago I was presenting a workshop at a conference that was held in a school. The classroom allocated to me was one of the most depressing spaces I had ever encountered. As a professional learning space, I tried to do my best to reconfigure it, but the only thing I could really do was shift the orientation.

classroom

What did this space tell me about itself? The teacher was the most important person in the room. There was nothing else to look at. The old posters on the wall were tatty and who knows what view there was on the other side of the black plastic that was covering the windows. The large clunky benches meant that there was little opportunity for collaboration. The space shouted the culture at me: sit down and listen, don’t look out the window, look to the screen at the front. I will tell you everything you need to know.

Every space tells a story.

This is what’s happening in the world of work:

20120223-061939.jpg

Your next workplace may look more like your lounge room than an office. Architects of a new generation of modern buildings are offering workers ”living spaces” and ”lounge” facilities to make them feel at home, often replacing the traditional desk and chair.
(SMH 9 July, 2014)

 

What story does that tell? Comfort, pleasant surroundings and a sense of being ‘at home’ matters to productivity, creativity and innovation.

What story does a learning space need to tell?Maglegard

Think about the spaces you work or teach in. Does the surrounding physical environment support and facilitate the learning that you want? How does it positively influence the desired culture?

 

 

John Seely Brown, co-chair at the Deloitte Centre for the edge contends that the cultures that constantly produce innovation share three characteristics: visionary leadership; an organizational commitment to breakthrough thinking; and a place that supports the work of innovation. (Forbes)

When we talk about innovative schools, the three characteristics are the same:IMG_1230

  • Visionary leadership
  • An organisational commitment to breakthrough
  • A place that supports the work of innovation

Learning spaces for the innovative school need to be places where students and teachers can collaborate, share knowledge and learn together. Separate does not allow for this – separate desks and separate classrooms.

What are the considerations in designing a learning space that supports and facilitates innovation?

The Zone

  1. Flexibility: Wheels, movement and ‘reconfigurable’
  2. Technology: Seamlessly embedded into the space, simple and reliable
  3. Furniture: Choose the place to work and connect, facilitate collaboration
  4. An inspiring feel: Aesthetics matter, natural light, an aspect, empty space
  5. Storage: Thought-through, embedded and easily accessed
  6. SCIL BuildingMultiple focal points: No area is identifiable as the “front of the class”
  7. Light, air temperature and quality: To minimise stuffiness
  8. Subtle and unsubtle zoning: Spaces within spaces
  9. Acoustic engineering: To enable multiple conversations across the space
  10. On brand: Supports the vision and
    aspirational culture of the school

@anneknock

Further reading: How place fosters innovation. 360° Research, Steelcase

Leadership again: “I’ve opened the space for learning, now what?” #thingsyoushouldneversay

Imagine if the story of the stork delivering the baby was true.

When I was young, kids’ TV shows didn’t dare mention, or even allude to, the real method of conception and delivery. Instead, we saw the image of a stork delivering a baby, perhaps unsuspectingly, to the happy couple.

The Stork

“The baby’s here, now what?” Imagine that.

Prior to the arrival of our first-born, by the conventional method of course, there was much preparation for this newest family member. We made initial plans and preparation for the responsibilities ahead – bought supplies, furniture and the enormous amount of equipment that the small person apparently required.

When he arrived we muddled our way through. As time went on we adjusted our plans and expectations, however, the months of preparation were essential. This baby was going to change our lives. It definitely wasn’t a matter of ‘business as usual’ once he arrived.

Open Space Learning: From conception to inceptionPArklands

Like any great idea, plan or endeavour there is a point of conception, when the idea was first formed. I have heard anecdotal accounts of teachers arriving for the new school year, finding walls down and shared learning spaces created. It didn’t end well.

Just like prior to the arrival of a baby, there are significant preparations to be made. The role of the team/school leader is to simultaneously listen and respond to concerns and to reinforce vision and direction.

At Northern Beaches Christian School shared spaces for learning are constantly being developed. In 2008 it started with Year 7 in the Global Learning Village, 2010 with The Zone for Stage 3 and Year 8 Quest for an integration of Science and Geography. Over the past few years the idea has spread across primary, to maths, design, technology and music.Rhythm & Blues

The development of each of these spaces requires constant attention, prior to staff and students using the open space, and then continued development, even after occupancy:

From conception – the germ of the idea

1. Reinforce a positive mindset, while considering every concern

If you truly believe that opening and sharing learning spaces are the right thing, then stick with it. Listen to concerns, respond to them, be empathic and supportive, while simultaneously resolute about the decision.

2. Design the space to achieve the vision The Zone

A sledgehammer to the walls is only the first step. Unless the physical environment is carefully crafted the space will more than likely default to a modified single cell use. Name and define zones within the open space.

3. Constantly communicate the desired culture (behaviour)

Be clear on how the space will be used. Communicate it and communicate it again. Share stories and paint pictures. Spark excitement and enthusiasm. The more that the leader talks about the changes the better.

To inception – the starting point

4. Be fluid and flexible Design Studio

Once staff and students start using the space adjustments will be made. This is normal. The vision remains clear, but execution needs to be tweaked. As a leader, be involved in all these discussions. It is important to keep the vision clear.

5. Take action to ensure that behaviours don’t default to old ways

Without reinforcing the vision, culture and desired behaviours old habits can creep in. Cupboards and bookcases can become walls spaces become delineated instead of fluid zones. Communicate vision and communicate it again

Opening spaces for learning is definitely not a ‘business as usual’ activity. Like the passing of time between conception and delivery of a baby, preparations for this ‘baby’ needs to commence as early as possible. School leaders not only need to fully own the decision, but give teachers the support and encouragement for the idea to grow and mature.

@anneknock

 

 

Multi-level schools for multi-level living: 7 lessons from great cities around the world (and lots of pics)

Living room comfortLook around at the places where people gather: shopping malls, offices, hotel lobbies, pubs. All these places are seeking to make an environment that make people want to return. At my local mall there are numerous ‘living room’ areas for people to sit, meet and wait. The design of these new communities are multi-level, spacious and use colour and lighting to create the right atmosphere. The designers thought about the way people move around, to see more, stay longer and presumably purchase more.

primary school 3The traditional Australian school has a wide, broad footprint, reflecting the spaciousness of our land. Usually, they are single or double storey buildings, opening onto a covered verandah overlooking a play area. This means there are often fewer corridors to herd the students along.

However, in many cities today, the medium to high density housing market is booming, bringing families into the city and apartment living. As a result schools in these areas are bursting at the seams. Many of us live in multi-level cities, but are reluctant to think about multi-level schools school.

I have visited multi-storey schools in a number of cities around the world. Older cities like New York, London, Amsterdam need schools where the people are and the people are in the older parts of the city, but even in new developments in Manchester, Copenhagen, Stockholm and Auckland schools are designed to go ‘up’ rather than ‘out’.

What does it mean to rethink how we design schools in Australia? Here are some ideas from around the world, schools and libraries I have visited on SCIL Vision Tours that may provide insight into rethinking the design of school.

Multi-level schools: Often designed around an atrium, these schools open the learning, giving a sense of space within. The spaces for learning are wide, multi-age and/or large cohorts often share an entire floor.

Shared open social spaces: One of the most common elements of multi-level schools are the social/meeting/eating spaces, where the whole community are welcome, without barriers that separate staff spaces from student spaces.

Stairs as a focal point and gathering place: In a number of schools and libraries the stairs are designed to be more than the means of travelling between levels. Wide stairs area enable free flow of movement of large numbers of students and also serve as gathering places for the community.

Spaces within spaces: These smaller spaces enable groups to work on a project, individuals to get into their own headspace and they also can create a sense of fun. A large open space can be broken up with smaller spaces.

Open movement areas and wide corridors extend the learning areas: Corridors have traditionally been considered the efficient means for movement, but are often an inefficient use of valuable space for learning. Make them wide, accessible and part of the learning area.

Light, colour, comfort: Each of these require attention. Designing a space that enables the students to see outside, to see sky and trees and to work in natural light helps everyone’s mood. Similarly, bringing colour through lighting, wall colours, murals or glass panels adds vibrancy.

Many of us like to choose the location and the furniture for the task, it is the same with students. A variety of furniture types provides students with choice. This will mean that all students may not be facing the front, which begs the question, “Do we really need a front at all?”

The People matter: A well-designed school is the starting point, creating the right culture and supporting the students and teachers in the use of the space is essential. Here are a few key areas that require deliberate planning and careful execution to make the transition:

  • Creating a collaborative work and learning culture
  • Rethinking the role of the teacher
  • Simple and reliable technology
  • Leadership that communicates vision

@anneknock

 

 

On the road in CPH: The Hub, Maglegardskolan & Orestad Gymnasium #VisionTour13

After much planning our tour group gathered together for dinner last night at a restaurant in downtown Copenhagen (CPH) run by a young Australian guy. It was the first opportunity for us all to meet and start the getting-to-know-you process, as we travel together for the next two weeks.

The Hub CPHThe morning started with a good walk across town to the Hub CPH. There was plenty of time to chat along the way as we joined in the morning commute, trying to remember to stay out of the bike lanes. CPH is a beautiful city. 

 

The Hub movement – Where change goes to work – is a worldwide community of co-working and event spaces for entrepreneurs and change-makers. Laura, our host, showed us around explaining the use of the different areas and the aims of the Hub.

HUB CPH

The Hub encourages innovation, creativity and sustainability. With different spaces designed for different ways of working – open, collaborative, engaged and quiet.

So why did you decide to join us for the Vision Tour? 

Unless you come along on this kind of trip you don’t know what you don’t know.

Our group is comprised of educational leaders – principals, a board chair, school systems leaders and facility planners, from NSW, Qld, SA and ACT – grappling with questions like:

How do we continue to engage students? They start off keen in the early years and then this deteriorates.

Can we help teachers not to revert to the industrial model in new spaces?

What is the resource centre for schools today?

What are the design challenges to incorporate into new schools?

How do we make collaboration the default, not the control model?

Can space lead to better pedagogy?

Can we invest in new ways of teaching and maintain academic standards?


So why did you decide to come?
This was the first framing session and Stephen Harris set the scene for change ahead, asking:

What common language do you need to create the culture you want?

What do you need to do for every student to have an equal user experience at school?

And challenging the group with: What do we really believe about change?

From there we started the educational adventure.

Two schools…

MaglegardskolenMabglegardskolan

The interesting feature about Maglegard is the grouping of three grades in the one home space – 75 children, with 5 teachers. They start the morning altogether as a community, then use the entire space as a learning area. The ‘classroom’ spaces are small – instruction is limited to around 15 minutes, then
MAglegardskolan
each child goes to a shared work area. Every student has their own plan, in their own portfolio.

This was my second visit to this school and I enjoyed the openness and friendliness of the students as they shared their work with me. Also, the communal area of the space, with the kitchen the sofas and the fish tank made it feel like home.
Maglegardskolan

Orestad GymnasiumIMG_2535

Architecturally, Orestad Gymnasium is impressive. This school is now five years old and is renowned for its outstanding design. A central spiral staircase forms the heart of the vertically designed senior high school.

Everyone can see everyone.

It is located in the growing IT district of Orestad, full of interesting and quirky
Orestad Gymnasium
buildings. The senior high school is
preparation ground for students who seek university education.

We were hosted by two students, Christoffer and Nikita. Their honest and candid reflections were helpful. The school is open and spaces are bookable as needed. There are closed off classrooms where learning lectures are held, but these students prefer the collaborative approaches. Only 20% of their learning time is in lecture format.

And in between… Lunch at a most amazing building.

We stopped for lunch in the Orestad precinct at a uniquely designed housing and 8 Housebusiness development – 8 House.

The bowtie-shaped 61,000 sqm mixed-use building of three different types of residential housing and 10,000 sqm of retail and offices comprises Denmark’s largest private development ever undertaken…the 8 House stacks all ingredients of a lively urban neighbourhood into horizontal layers of typologies connected by a continuous promenade and cycling path up to the 10th floor creating a three-dimensional urban neighbourhood where suburban life merges with the energy of a city, where business and housing co-exist. 

8 House

8 House cafe

 

In the new paradigm of work and learning, have we given sufficient thought to the teacher workspace?

20120223-061243.jpgIn the last couple of weeks I have had tours of city workplaces, particularly in the banking sector, that are opting for the activity-based work (ABW) approaches to organising their people and spaces.

ABW does away with a personal workspace for each employee, while providing different spaces for various work functions, including collaboration, learning, focusing, and socialising. Read more.

Luc Kamperman, from Veldhoen, the Dutch company that pioneered this approach commented in an interview:

Activity based working in a building is really characterised by a different environment, different spaces, different settings for people to either concentrate individually or to collaborate with a couple of people together. 

This all makes sense. It looks and feels like the open learning spaces in school – for the students,  but has the teacher own workspace kept up?

What could a teacher’s workspace (other than the learning space) look like?

Individual study corals

Messy desks

Stacked high with paper, folders and lots of unused resources

Little consideration of the aesthetics – bare brick wall and fluorescent lighting

‘Stuck’ beside the colleague who drives you crazy

Lacking in a sense of pride and collective ownership

In the ABW environment the employees have choice, very similar to what many of us advocate for our students. Workspaces are not owned, people have lockers for their gear. There are kitchens, shared tables, quiet nooks and meeting areas. There is no mess, nothing left out at the end of the day and, over time, personal responsibility taken.

Generally in these buildings there are 75% of spaces for the number of people who work there – with city office costs, it provides a significant saving on the cost of business. The actual place of work depends on the project at hand and who they need to work alongside.

The benefits, however, are more than just cost savings, the Commonwealth Bank found:

The kicker was an increase in the work/life satisfaction level, which jumped from 10 per cent before the move to 72 per cent. Almost 80 per cent of employees said they were inspired by their new environment. 

For our students we might focus on the 4Cs of 21stC learning:

Creative

Critical thinkers

Collaborators

Communicators

But the ideas are valid for the staff as well. And to that we can probably add two more Cs

Choice

Change

How are we providing the physical context to make this happen, and then help teachers shift in their thinking from privatising work and learning to a shared and collaborative culture. Education has a lot to learn from activity-based work.

It requires a significant mental shift in ownership from ‘my space’ to ‘our space’, from paper-based resources, to digital and cloud storage. It takes time and determination. We are preparing our young people for a world that relies more on the 4Cs, once they’ve mastered the 3Rs. By rethinking the way that teachers work, we are helping them understand the reason why the way students learn may need to change.

Ultimately, they just might enjoy it as well.

@anneknock

PS… If you are interested in hearing more about this, join us for CEFPI Australasia’s event: Relearn2013 on 14 and 15 November in Sydney