Designing Spaces for Creativity

I’ve just spent two stimulating days with a small group of architects, university professors, and creativity researchers, at a beautiful old lakeside estate called Marigold Lodge, in Western Michigan. Our goal: To collect everything we know about how to design spaces that maximize learning and foster creativity. With funding from the Sloan Foundation and from the legendary furniture company Herman Miller (which now owns Marigold Lodge), our task is to write a report that will advise university administrations and architecture firms, to guide how new university buildings are designed.

The good news: Very quickly, we came to a consensus. Our group includes artists, furniture designers, architects, musicians, and psychologists. And even with all of that diversity, we agreed on the underlying features of creative learning spaces:

  • Spaces that are flexible, adaptable, and reconfigurable by the users: students and faculty
  • Shared spaces that foster connections and conversations, both planned and unplanned. This means rethinking hallways, lobbies, and stairways, so that they aren’t just places to pass through, but places where collaboration and learning happens
  • Spaces that inspire
  • Spaces that make it easy to create things–with materials, sketches, whiteboards–wherever you are, without having to go to some other space to be creative

Jeanne Narum, the lead organizer of this meeting, and Principal of the Learning Spaces Collaboratory, showed us a series of case studies of recent university buildings that show us this current consensus (check out the links here).

The bad news: A lot of universities are still creating new buildings that don’t look anything like this. Instead of shared space and room for collaboration, they have long hallways with separate offices for each professor. (My own office is in such a building; check out my 2008 post “The Architecture of Solitude.”)

After three days with this amazing group of experts, I’m optimistic. But on many campuses, designing for creativity and collaboration will require a culture shift, among the faculty and the students. They need to be convinced that these spaces will make their work life more fulfilling, enhance their learning, and increase the quality of their research.

3 thoughts on “Designing Spaces for Creativity

  1. Reblogged this on Censemaking and commented:
    Keith Sawyer’s latest post provides a terrific introduction to a new series coming on the design of learning that I’ll be doing on Censemaking in the coming weeks. The importance of the environments — social and physical — that support creativity cannot be understated and Dr Sawyer’s reflections, if taken seriously by educators and academic administrators, could transform the demands that educational institutions pose on their builders, their teachers and their students (who, by the way, are already asking for better spaces to learn). If you’re not familiar with Keith Sawyer’s work, look him up and consider reading some of his many outstanding texts on creativity and innovation; they are top-notch.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s