Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Spring Lane Building furniture procurement exercise

As mentioned in previous posts, the Learning Spaces Working Group is passionate about transforming the learning spaces we have on campus - and making a huge wave in this effort through the introduction of the Spring Lane Building.

I often see that furniture is often one of the last elements to a) be decided upon for a building and b) arrive at a building and but also c) be an easy option to cut when money starts running short.

We have a commitment from the Steering Group that both a) and c) will not happen.

As a working group, we have spent a long time exploring what makes a good learning space. Often it is easier to say what doesn't, or what you didn't enjoy. We also received great feedback through the Autumn Term Learning Spaces Roadshows and the direct feedback canvassed for the D/056 and V/044 full refurbishment consultation.

Our Spring Lane learning spaces, in particular the seminar rooms, will be the new generation of size and dimension (applying our new Space Norms). Already the early visitors to the spaces believe they feel ‘large’. Well, without anything in them they are big empty boxes, but, they’re our empty boxes and purpose designed. The furniture will be too.

We have a limited budget but are determined to get the best out of it. After many months of discussion the working group generated the following brief for the procurement exercise. We hope you agree (but if not, please do reply so we keep track of this feedback):

The building and fit out should:

  • Be high quality and durable
  • Use inspirational design: not institutional or corporate and avoid the traditional (price-driven) table and chairs that are usually bought
  • Be esigned for/fit for purpose first, over considerations of flexibility (movement) of furniture
  • Encourage people movement rather than furniture movement and thus reduce both time lost in-session and on-going facilities costs
  • Fit with the building’s overall natural feel - including the walnut of the doors

We should avoid these features:

  • Flip-top chairs
  • Plastic backed (non-upholstered) - mesh may be suitable subject to testing
  • Centre pivot flip tables
  • All the same (even on one floor)

Seminar rooms should:

  • Seat (min) 20 people comfortably that allows the whole group to converse together, without any backs to the ‘front’ of the room
  • Allow free and easy movement around the room by both student and tutor - eg not have a cluster within a cluster
  • Aim to be progressive as far as possible. It is suggested we may pitch for:
    • Ground floor ‘traditional’ with more ease of furniture movement - with a view to supporting non-teaching activity eg conferencing or other events we may run
    • Middle floor ‘traditional/progressive’  - may be harder to re-arrange furniture, but not impossible
    • Top floor ‘progressive’ - fixed furniture design, does what is advertised
  • Demonstrate larger capacities without compromising the above
  • Where possible, integrate the AV console into the design, so the tutor is part of the discussion in addition to the ability for stand-up presentation
  • Where possible, offer integrated power solutions and safely tether to the provided power in the room

Experimental learning spaces

Further to the main seminar rooms, the three learning spaces above the lecture theatre are our opportunity to support new learning styles. We welcome truly creative opportunities that embrace technology - for example, interactive workshop space with technology enabled group working.  For these the capacity should be around 30 student.

Social learning spaces

The Deputy Director of Information is leading this area of the design - utilising the recent years of developments in the Library, and success therein, to build on.

The furniture tender is now live and we will be engaging with the successful company over the next few months, including open sessions, to select the products that will define York learning spaces and your experience. Your feedback will be invaluable in this process.


Monday, 25 April 2016

Hendrix Hall and Vanbrugh V/045 Lecture theatre board upgrades

As part of the work to define the teaching and learning provision within the Spring Lane Building, we spent a lot of time working through the lecture theatre design. In particular, Dr Roddy Vann (Natural Sciences Programme Director) has been extremely active - especially within the Sciences community - to canvas views, test existing facilities and input into the type of provision required.

A genuine challenge that we were unable to overcome within the Spring Lane Building theatre, given the size, was the writing board provision at the front of the theatre and visibility/legibility at the back.

The working group concluded that it would not be possible to provide a high-quality learning experience with traditional writing boards that move up and down. Instead, we will pioneer new camera and board technology in the Spring Lane lecture theatre and project this using the two six metre wide projection screens that will be installed. A smaller ‘scribble’ board (a few meters in size and mobile) will be provided for smaller lectures where this may be useful.

Many of our lectures that would ideally like a lot of teaching board real-estate are around the 150-250 size range and housed in other lecture theatres on campus. Feedback in some of these - notably the Exhibition Centre P/X/001, Derwent Hendrix Hall and Vanbrugh V/045 - is not always great for a number of reasons such as board surface wear, manual handling issues or lack of free movement (pressing a motorised button instead), or not enough board space.

Acting upon this feedback, the Steering Group has recommended that these theatres are upgraded.

We are happy to say, in adjusting the investment programme for this year, we will upgrade the boards in Hendrix Hall and install new boards in V/045 by the Summer! P/X/001 is a much bigger project, given the size of the room and the existing facilities. As such, it has been recommended to include this in the major works/capital programme for the next financial year as a ‘focused estates investment’ - looking at every element of the fabric of the space with a view to transforming the learning and teaching experience.

Thank you for your feedback on this - and particular to Dr Vann who has passionately championed the cause.


Monday, 18 April 2016

Spring Lane Building update - April 2016

It has been a while since our last update, but we have lots to report!

The Learning Spaces Working Group has been meeting regularly to firm up lots of design issues, including:

  • Colour scheme of the building and finishes - we’re opting for neutral and natural, introducing autumnal colour via the furniture scheme and to define each level of the building
  • Ensuring adequate power provision in each seminar room (sockets across two walls), the lecture theatre (one socket between two seats) and around the building in the informal spaces
  • Choosing suitable floor coverings - carpet swatches galore!
  • Preventing disturbance to the seminar rooms by relocating hand dryers in the toilets to adjacent walls
  • Acoustic ‘baffle’ design (these stop the building from echoing on the various levels)
  • Lots of Audio Visual Technology input for each type of learning spaces (keep an eye out for a future post on procurement)
  • Recommending to the steering group we allocate three ‘experimental’ learning spaces on the top floor of the building (adjacent to the informal study/library space) to support the next generation of delivery
  • Defining the brief for the furniture procurement exercise (there is lots of it, so just like the technology we invite competitive tenders to achieve best value for money for the University)
  • Defining which rooms will have full blackout (1/3rd of them), and agreeing internal blinds/viewing panels on doors and windows - allowing good visibility of the vibrancy of the building, but also supporting classes that need a blackout for their function
  • Agreeing dual projection for the lecture theatre, the sizing of the screens and to introduce our first ‘writing surface’ capture (rather than big boards at the front which may be hard to see from the back)
  • Discussing the relocation of a sculpture by Barbara Hepworth to the street level of the building (more on this in a future blog post)

We’re putting the building’s look, feel and function at the heart of every decision that we make, and learning from what works well (or doesn’t) on campus to achieve the best possible outcome for the staff and students.

There's lots to see from the outside of the building - the brickwork is looking great and the full glazed walls down the side of the building are being hung - and things are really starting to take shape inside too:

The glass roof is in place, and floods the building with lots of natural light
The lecture theatre (housed in the brick-clad portion of the building)

A 'social learning area' with a view!

A sneak peek at the impressive views above the tree tops

As always, we’d love to hear your comments and feedback. You can reach us on learning-spaces@york.ac.uk.  

Matt Burton Chair, Learning Spaces Working Group