Wednesday, December 21, 2011

ANU New Learning Space

Greetings from the new teaching and learning spaces in the Hancock Building at the Australian National University in Canberra. While new science buildings with hexagonal windows are the visible sign of change in the western science precinct at ANU, a less visible revolution in education has taken place inside the old Hancock Library. The rows of grey steel bookshelves have been replaced with brightly colored furnishing of a modern learning centre. The third floor south western corner of the building has a number of teaching spaces. There are informal areas with cafe and lounge style seating. There is also a kitchen and a printer room.

Smaller rooms seat eight people at a wedge shaped table with a computer screen at one end. Larger rooms seat 28 people at oval tables, each with two computers.

The same wedge shaped tables are used in tutorial rooms and in the open plan area. These tables are made up of a smaller and larger half and can be separated to make two tables to seat four students each.

While the Hancock Library retains its 1960s brick rectilinear exterior, the new teaching space uses the same hexagonal motif as the new science buildings. The internal windows in the partitions of the space are hexagonal and even the white boards are hexagonal ( traditional rectangles might have been more practical). The corridors outside the rooms have informal bench seating.

The layout makes a good use of space, but the rooms are perhaps a little too well isolated from the outside. However, the result is the rooms are very well insulated and so able to retain a library atmosphere outside while a vigorous debate happens in a group in a room. The furniture also looks robust.

The use of standard desktop computers makes for low cost and ease of maintenance. However, the relatively large boxes take up a lot of room on the small desktops. There is also a clutter of cables behind each computer, not all of which is retained in the slot in the desktop. The placement of the computers does allow good sight lines from the each seats to the whiteboard. But the fit out would have looked neater with smaller computers being used. An alternative would be to place the processor boxes on a shelf under the desks, with an extension cable for USB access (access to the DVD drives is rarely required).

Some thought on energy use has gone into the design also, with the room lighting automatically activating when I entered a room. The fluorescent ceiling lighting is low glare, but appears to be set to abruptly switch on and off. This can be disconcerting when you are in a room and suddenly the corridor lighting goes out. A gentle transition would be better (as would LED lighting). There is a noticeable roar of air-conditioning in the rooms, but such a space would normally have a high noise level and this white noise would help mask the talking.

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