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Flexibility valuable in business & higher educationAs businesses increasingly have moved to open floor plans to foster collaboration and reduce real estate costs, they have also realized there is value in setting aside some of the office for smaller spaces. These areas can be used as needed by employees, with adaptable furniture and tools geared toward small meetings, focused individual work, or phone calls.
Designers and university administrators have begun to realize that flexible environments have value in academia as well. Using this more diverse approach toward space planning has the dual benefits of meeting immediate student needs and better aligning the school with the professional world so students are prepared to transition into the workforce.
The role of collaborative spaces in academiaUniversities have traditionally met the needs of students through lecture halls, individual desks and tables spaced throughout libraries, and campus eateries where people can relax and work on group projects.
Essentially, universities have realized that they can benefit their students by expanding the types of environment available on campus, explains Christopher Schiavello of Sourceable. “The need for flexibility is non-negotiable as every faculty needs to meet its immediate individual needs while also considering long-term changes,” he says, “given that the average student cycle lasts three to four years.”
Here are some of the basic characteristics of these spaces:
• Diversity– Seating arrangements can include couches, benches, low stools at long tables, and groupings of easy chairs around central tables.
• Flexibility – Furniture often has wheels and can easily be moved around to fit the immediate needs of users.
• Connectivity – These areas are outfitted with technology so that students can access class resources and the Internet, sometimes with the ability to view computer screens or video as a group.
• Plants – Plants are included not just because they are pretty but because they are effective, with studies showing they increase both productivity and mood.
What administrators are trying to do with many of these spaces is meet the needs for brainstorming as well as focused research, so acoustics are a primary concern of design, notes Schiavello. “Architecturally finished writable surfaces are commonly used as the biggest team research communication tool,” he adds. “Every element of space or surface is utilized to its maximum capacity.”