Space Exploration

by julia.hanigsberg | February 4th, 2011

         Chart 1.pdf                                                        Chart 2.pdf

When we talk about resources that are in short supply, we tend to think of fossil fuels or fresh water. At Ryerson, the resource most consistently in short supply is space. It may not be the final frontier, but it’s certainly on the shortlist of priorities for any responsible institution as we balance the goals of sustainability with our need to create ideal settings for study, dialogue and collaboration.

Those are some of the considerations that were on the agenda at a recent workshop on “Workplace and Learning Space Strategy” that I attended with my administrative and academic colleagues. Presented by the international design consultancy, DEGW, the half-day session reviewed recent thinking on how workspaces can be optimized to promote creativity, foster shared values and help people work effectively on their own and in groups. Google provided an interesting case study of an organization that’s trying to rethink old assumptions about the best environments in which people can work together productively, take advantage of new technologies and realize their full potential all with a lot of fun built in.

Naturally much of our discussion focused on the specific challenges of designing spaces for an academic institution. The topic is a timely one for Ryerson, as we try to make optimal use of our existing facilities and also see promising opportunities, in the new buildings under way, to take the design of learning, teaching and research spaces to a whole new level.

A case in point is the new Student Learning Centre, soon to be under construction on the old Sam the Record man site at the corner of Yonge and Gould streets. I don’t want to scoop the big “reveal” that’s coming in a few weeks, but I can say that our new landmark building not only will satisfy the Master Plan’s requirement of design excellence – it will be a showcase for experience-centred design and the imaginative use of space to serve multiple purposes.

From its work with other academic institutions around the globe, DEGW has found that on a typical campus, more than a quarter of available workspace sits empty – climate controlled and lit, but with no one actually using it – about 70% of the time. To me this is an astonishing figure, especially in the academic realm, where budgets are inevitably tight and the principles of sustainability tend to be top of mind.

There was much more food for thought during our morning-long session. For a good overview of the conceptual ground we covered, take a look at the “graphic recordings” accompanying this post. This was an interesting way to capture clusters of ideas, and the complex connections between them, in a format that’s succinct, accessible and actually fun to decode. It sums up the spirit of innovation that informs a lot of what’s going on at Ryerson these days (as I mentioned in my last post). We can look forward to more innovative thinking in the months ahead, as we explore new ways to create environments that are flexible, sustainable and designed to inspire collaborative creativity. While space isn’t our final frontier, there’s no question it’s an exciting one.

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