Sunday, February 19, 2012

Space To Think

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.

Friday, February 10, 2012

A University Grand Design

This is the BEFORE...

This photo is taken from the corridor in Department of Real Estate and Construction at Oxford Brookes University, where I work. The Department's building is due to be demolished before the end of the year and it will then reveal the secret that it has been hiding for the last year or so...the new Library and Teaching Building, which is fast rising out of the ground as you can see. The demolition will create space for a public square, forming part of the entrance setting for the new building - artist's impression of which is shown here. This will be the University's new 'front door' and faces onto the London Road - a major route into and out of Oxford.

...this will be the AFTER

It's quite apt that a department of real estate and construction should overlook the new development and it has been very interesting watching the different phases of construction take place. From the:

However, it's difficult not to have mixed feelings seeing buildings that you have known so well being quickly taken down. One thing that the property professions teaches you is that it's important that buildings are usable. That can mean different things.

Bill Bordass is one of the people behind a charity called the Usable Buildings Trust which looks at how buildings work for their users in environmental as well as economic terms. The charity has a website with a lot of resources here.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Nearly A Fully Cooked Person

So what does fully cooked mean?

When someone is described as fully cooked I think it means they have experience and knowledge, and they have learnt much. It's sort of the opposite of saying a person is a raw beginner - that they are 'uncooked'. I suppose it's strange to talk about oneself as nearly fully cooked, or almost ready to serve. I don't know why I have always used this term to describe myself and other people, nor do I know where it comes from. The connection to food is a useful one though. Quite often you meet a person for the first time and they appear to you to be an adult, grown up and mature. Then, as you get to know them better, you realise that actually they are not that at all. They are like a pudding taken too early from the oven. It looks cooked on the outside but inside it's still got a way to go before it's ready. This happens the other way round as well, when you meet an incrediby sage young person, who you expected to be inexperienced in life.

I'm not saying it's disappointing to find that people aren't fully cooked. Becoming a cooked person takes a long time for some people, maybe a lifetime.