The photos are taken in 'The Lab' at Oxford Brookes. It's not the kind of lab you'd expect to find at a uni. Instead this is a space created specifically to give people a different opportunity to engage with the campus redevelopment that's going on (and was the subject of my previous post). The idea is that students, staff and maybe interested others can see examples of the different colours, treatments, flooring and furniture that is planned for the new Library and Teaching Building and to comment on these, or ask questions about something other aspect of the redevelopment. When I visited a tasting session for different types of coffee for the new cafes was underway. The Lab is part of the Space to Think initiative at the university.
|The Lab@Oxford Brookes with model of the campus redevelopment|
|Barista at work - will you choose coffee A or B?|
This is idea of having space to think got me thinking on several fronts. First, what does it actually mean to have space to think? Does it have to a be a physical space, which is what's implied here by the massive building project that's creating a huge new lecture hall and other teaching rooms, as well as informal spaces for 'connecting' (I presume that means connecting to WiFi), along with a state of the art library.
A long time ago, I studied something called environmental determinism as part of an urban planning elective I did for my degree in environmental science. Environmental determinism basically holds that your surrounding (built) environment can affect your behaviour. It's the theory behind policies like designing out crime and creating active spaces. It follows then that by appropriately designing the new space at Oxford Brookes perhaps thinking by students and staff will be changed, hopefully for the better.
But does space to think really have to be a physical bricks and mortar space? Couldn't it also be a virtual space - a cyberspace where all sorts of different opportunities to think and do are available. Or perhaps a space in your mind? In a way meditation is having space to think, clearing your mind to enable you to focus on a problem, or to go within yourself to find peace and quiet to relax. Neither of these spaces involves buildings.
This leads me to my question for The Lab about the new Library and Teaching Building...
What will happen if the need for the kind of 'space to think' we are currently creating through the campus redevelopment changes?
I've been thinking about this partly because of this article in the Washington Post. It talks about the traditional lecture being replaced by more interactive methods of teaching involving smaller classes.
The lecture has been the dominant teaching method for centuries in universities. The architecture of most universities is defined by the need for large lecture halls - which are very specific spaces to think. The real estate of universities revolves around the successful usage of this space. The article believes that the lecture hall is not a very good space to think. In the future, it suggests that, spaces to think will involve connecting online and/or being face to face in smaller, more active spaces than the lecture hall.
So if we are creating a new teaching building based on the need for large lecture rooms, it may not be space to think after all. Or maybe the prediction of the demise of the lecture (and the lecture hall) is exaggerated, as it has been so often in the past.