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.