University of Northampton’s Learning Hub allows a radical rethinking of space, putting the learning at the heart of the campus
MCW Architects have completed the new £45m Learning Hub as the core of the learning experience on the University of Northampton’s Waterside Campus.
The opportunity of a new campus was the enabler that allowed the University to think radically and innovatively about space – its use, arrangement, flexibility, efficiency, quantum – and to put the learner at the heart of the design.
Seven years ago the University set out to move from their existing twin campus, edge of town situation onto one single 24-ha brownfield river edge site, driving urban regeneration and bringing a major economic, social and cultural boost to the town centre. MCW Architects have been involved from the very outset, as overall Master planners as well as designing four of the new campus buildings and two new river bridges.
A Transformative Catalyst
In the context of Universities promoting closer relationships with business - and the business world extolling the need to be increasingly agile and adaptive – the University has completed a remarkable exercise in adapting themselves to be able to offer students, staff and partners a totally new working and learning environment.
The opportunity has delivered a brief and design based on the typology of space, rather than any notion of departmental structures, breaking down the ‘silos’ and boundaries that are typical in many HE institutions. The innovative approach encourages cross disciplinary working, maximising utilisation and flexibility, and was driven by a fundamental shift from ‘owned’ to ‘shared’ space - a ‘bottom-up’ analysis of the spaces needed to deliver course modules - creating a multi-function innovative and vibrant learning environment. This non-owned, non-departmental approach drives true flexibility for the University as a whole, ensuring easy adaptation to changing pedagogical and business drivers in the future, and has delivered a 40% reduction in the academic estate with corresponding reductions in operational and carbon costs.
The Learning Hub is the focus for the students’ learning experience - a ‘fusion facility’ open 24 hours/day – that ‘blends’ a radical re-think about teaching, learning, working and social spaces to provide a range of dynamic and supportive environments as a group or individually. The building seamlessly fuses spaces for formal and informal teaching, individual and group-based learning, working and socialising – all the facilities that support an individual’s ‘learning’ experience have been carefully integrated including a single point for student help, visible classrooms, academic workspaces, meeting rooms, social spaces and the life blood of great food and coffee.
Open, collaborative, adaptable and attractive activity-based academic workspaces have been provided as an integral part of the learning environment to encourage formal and informal interactions with students, supporting their learning needs. Cross-disciplinary working is enhanced through the co-location of subject hubs allowing staff to work in collaborative environments while providing a ‘home’.
The Learning Hub has been designed with well-being at its heart - maximising daylight, natural ventilation and views out to surrounding landscape in a rich-mix of spaces. The building combines multiple functions and is enlivened by daylit interconnecting volumes which play a vital role in making the whole facility legible and navigable. The open and transparent envelope connects riverside amenity space through to the centre of the campus via a series of gently stepped spaces onto a south facing lawn. The upper floors open into a series of external areas to provide a rich environment for learning and socialising, extending the active learning and study environment from inside to outside. The building has been carefully crafted to relate to the riverside context, the scale of adjacent buildings reducing its height towards the Listed Engine Shed. This crafting brings high quality landscape spaces ‘into’ the building encouraging views out and views within.
Supporting the spatial innovation, is a leading-edge ICT / AV environment. There are no traditional large lecture theatres, projectors, lecterns, interactive whiteboards, PC’s, or control panels. Instead of multiple large lecture theatres, students and academics gather in smaller ‘spaces’ – some of which aren’t traditional rooms. Anywhere with a display and space for seating is a place for learning, teaching and working. Instead of projectors, the building uses wall mounted displays of various sizes– but students don’t want barriers and can view the tutor’s display from their own device and interact with the session. All content displayed is viewable on mobile devices owned and used by the students and staff. Likewise, students can contribute directly, sharing their own content. Students can submit “silent questions” viewable to the tutor if there’s anything they are unclear on, prompting additional clarity without disrupting the flow or sounding out an individual. Lecterns normally housed at the front of a room or theatre – ‘locking’ the academic within the room – are not required or present.
The Waterside Campus has transformed a derelict abandoned 24-acre site near the town centre to an attractive, open campus that is fully accessible to the public with the Learning Hub at its heart. The innovative approach to the brief and design have delivered a highly integrated learning and working environment that maximises efficiency, is a delight to use and delivers true flexibility for the future.
Formal post occupancy reviews / surveys are due to take place in the year ahead - initial ad-hoc surveys have revealed a highly positive response from students and staff.