“When planning goes well, good buildings are truly transformational, both for the university as a whole and the people who work and study in them.” Pinder et al, ‘The case for new academic workspaces, 2009.
Traditionally, academics would be offered a single occupancy office. It would be their library, with books and papers at hand, suitable for intense, individual concentrated work, and meeting room for small group tutorials, or confidential conversations. More junior staff, or postgraduate researchers might typically share an office, and administrative staff work in shared spaces. As such, an office has an element of status attached to it. As in life, in the Higher Education sector, change is inevitable, and future flexibility is key. Recent issues in workplace design have included the recognition of the importance of workplace wellbeing, the post-pandemic shift to increased hybrid working and studying plus the parallel developments in IT that have enabled these.
Like commercial workspaces, universities are moving towards more collaborative environments. The case for new academic workspaces was outlined in a 2009 article by Pinder et al and they have been adopted – in various forms and with various levels of success widely since then.
The move away from individually allocated offices for teaching and research fellows has a number of drivers including: including: encouraging collaboration/ knowledge exchange, the cost of space, cultural change, the carbon considerations of creating many cellular rooms, student requirements for teaching – in small groups or individually, student experience and safeguarding. Our role is to manage the tension between these requirements, taking into account the current and future requirements of the universities we design for.
For the university estate departments, space utilisation is a vital metric, and the challenge to create a ‘sticky campus’ is real. For the staff, it is vital that they have spaces which can be used effectively for research, teaching, concentration and collaboration . How academic workspaces are provided – be it single occupancy offices for all academic staff, or a more open plan or shared office arrangement - impacts not only how people will work in the future and the quality of their work, but also staff retention and student relationships.
Pinder et all point out that ‘efforts to reduce workspace costs will be counter-productive if they have a negative impact on the ability of lecturers and researchers to work effectively.‘
We look at three recent FCBStudios Higher Education buildings where we have approached academic workspaces differently, responding to client and user consultation, and the current and future culture of each institution.