Student consultation shaping interior design
Talking to the editor of a leading magazine focussed on people building or renovating their homes, we were interested to know what drives people to spend months if not years on their dream ‘Grand Designs’ project, overcoming huge challenges and so much stress. His reply was that the one thing they always say is that they have a vision of themselves living in the new home, using the space, seeing their children playing, cooking in the kitchen, sitting around a table etc and it’s this vision of ‘how life will be’ in their new home that keeps them going.
We think it is worth applying this ‘homeowner’ approach to the design of a library or teaching space. The idea of ‘visioning’ a space is very strong and is a powerful exercise when we talk to librarians and teachers. The evolution of furniture design means that we can now ‘flex furnishings’ to include, built in power and charging, castors for flexibility, tilting tops, nesting, space to spread out, pods for private to collaborative working and many more. Creative space planning means we can create interior designs that are made up of any number of micro-environments. However, the real detail is in the physical and emotional use of the space. Young people are aware of their own health and wellbeing and, if we listen to what they have to say, we can bring a holistic approach to the design and furnishing of the interior.
The best spaces are created when students are not overlooked but asked what they would like. We recently carried out a consultation with secondary school students and were surprised at what they had to say. A tip – if you’re carrying out your own consultation it’s important to translate what they ‘say’ into what they ‘mean’ so that you see the bigger picture. They may say, ‘we would like to be able to eat in the library’ but what they actually mean is ‘we’re adults, we’re responsible, we want to be treated in an adult way’.
A request for a sleep pod in the library could be mean ‘we’re working very hard, we get tired and stressed so design us an area of the library that’s quieter, in calmer colours, soothing textures, for smaller groups’. It’s important to translate what they say into something more meaningful which can be rolled out across all areas of the design. What our consultation flagged up was a requirement for nice smells, carpet for quiet, secluded homely areas, no dark corners, plants, good ventilation, nesting areas and much more. Our job as library designers is to combine this insight with our extensive expertise and create spaces that meet the needs of students now and in the future. To some degree we are talking about bringing the real world into the library and classroom. Consulting with students and allows them to be more than bystanders in their education and means they are invested in the space. We do advocate designing spaces that balance academic, physical and mental wellbeing and support students to live, learn and earn.