Designing for some recent projects we’ve noticed a new type of sixth form space emerging which acts as a bridge or transition space for students that sits apart from the rest of the school.
Looking at futures beyond school, this new style Sixth Form Study space is specifically designed as a transitional space, to prepare students for a more competitive University environment and helping familiarise them with a different way of working and studying. A step change from a traditional library or sixth form space, the shift in approach is subtle but important.
Feedback clearly showed us that these post-millennial learners want to be treated as adults which means they want to take responsibility for their own space. No dumbing down, no classroom vibe, no hierarchy format but a democratic space that gives them the choice in how they work. This means designing and using furnishings to create an environment that allows a student to move intuitively between spaces to suit the need of that moment, that hour or that day.
This was a space where they would go to specifically with a view to studying perhaps after school or even booking a space when they needed it. Strong with students is the concept of together: alone with students wanting to work individually but with the comfort of others around them. This requires sensitive space planning and choice of furnishings to get the balance right. We have to stay focussed on giving students a choice in how they work; individually or in groups, side by side but privately, spreading out or keeping close. Overall we aim to create a space that calms down rather than ramps up stress levels.
Silent v quiet study
This is important as acoustic levels play an important part in space planning, layout and selection of furnishings (including flooring). Students acknowledge that some like to study with headphones and are happy to rely on the discretion of users to keep them low level. Study carrels are there to provide heads down, semi-private study but ‘softer’ or ‘relaxed’ versions now that don’t look too austere or old fashioned are a popular choice. Pods are now a common feature in sixth form study areas; students can be surprisingly self conscious so some manifestations or graphics will stop that ‘in a goldfish bowl’ feeling.
BREATHE – Nesting and natural
What’s clear is that students want to create a nesting environment that is conducive to study – they don’t want it to be too cold, clinical or harsh. The aim is to build a calm environment with few distractions. So we look at fabrics, tones and colours, natural products and materials help to create this ‘earth space’. Student welfare has to come top of the agenda and spaces that ‘breathe’, smell nice and are well ventilated can have a positive effect on student wellbeing. We aim to find that winning combination of study and mindfulness.
‘Looks like work’ furnishings
In their own words students want furnishings that ‘look like work’ – not too recreational or social, attractive yet functional. A modern workspace that shouts out ‘lean into learning. They say ‘no’ to stools with no backs table but they do like bar height study tables that bridge the gap between informal and formal.
Course relevant spaces
Design spaces that reflect the courses on offer. For example media students want wide tables to spread out work and assume a table for four would only accommodate two students. Science and maths students can sometime feel neglected so we like to include some science related graphics or imagery. We are also looking at some form of plants on a living wall.
Students like a space that can be broadened to accommodate curriculum based resources or facilities, e.g. by including art spaces, plants (biology) greenhouse, multimedia, magazines and dvds (geography specifically mentioned), visuals on creative arts etc.
Bags, devices, books and things – students like to have their bags with them but they may also need storage for other items while they are studying. Some lockers frees space in the area that may get easily cluttered with coats and bags. A clear space = a clear mind and helps students having to shift everything around when they move from ‘station to station’. Space for ‘other things’ becomes important.
These are small changes that have an impact on how well students receive a new space. Treating them as adults and listening are the first steps.