Can Space Make Change?

by julia.hanigsberg | April 28th, 2014

As a city-building university, Ryerson takes place making seriously. We express the importance through our Master Plan and through the buildings we build, most recently the Mattamy Athletic Centre, the Ryerson Image Center and Image Arts Building, and the soon to be completed Student Learning Centre on Yonge Street.

But what about the spaces within our buildings. Can we promote sustainability, healthy living and even social inclusion by the way we design the interiors of our buildings? In a recent column in the Globe and Mail Leah Eichler neatly summarizes the research on how dangerous prolonged sitting is to our health. In the article she talks about a Danish designer who designs offices to encourage people to move around by putting printers and kitchen areas far from offices. This is sustainable design in the broadest sense with impact on environment and people.

In our own Financial Services department, individual printers have been replaced by a few central printers both discouraging unnecessary printing and reducing paper use and getting people on their feet when they do need to print. In our Capital Projects and Real Estate department there are few individual offices and standing desks were offered as an option when desks were replaced. As we are designing new buildings we are promoting healthy lifestyles through providing attractive stairs in addition to elevators. We are promoting diversity and inclusion by making sure there are gender neutral washrooms in new buildings and that we create them in existing buildings. Carleton University’s Discovery Centre includes treadmill desks for student use.

By considering intelligently designed open office space, fewer closed offices and interesting spaces for group and private work we can change how we collaborate just as the Toronto offices of Edelman Public Affairs demonstrate in their award-winning space. Ryerson’s new Student Learning Center design prioritizes open student learning and study spaces over carrels or fixed seating.

Can changing the mix of people you have on a floor, perhaps including different units with varied responsibilities break down silos? What about intermingling faculty offices with an incubator? Making changes including non-traditional spaces requires smart innovation, experimentation, intrapreneurship and (more than anything else) trust.

Designing spaces…another form of social innovation.

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