Conversation culture

4 September 2023

Social learning spaces, Warwick Faculty of Arts

Gathering for conversation is an important act – it always has been – in the age of accelerating media cyles and rising cynicism, face-to-face discussion may be more important than ever.

The art of conversation is particularly important for the arts and humanities disciplines. There are no labs or algorithms for testing out theories, all research and teaching is in fact a form of dialogue. Ideas are tested through conversation. Academic papers and books are in fact a written form of conversation which will be picked up and engaged with as a dialogue, sparking new interpretations and ideas for each reader. The Faculty of Arts Building (FAB) at Warwick University was designed to facilitate and encourage these conversations, from formal seminars and tutorials to chance encounters.

The culture within each of the seven departments was slightly different. But we noticed there was a commonality across them all: a need to communicate and to have a place to do so. The interior of the building is made up of spaces for ad hoc meetings and dialogue with benches, alcoves, corners and ledges with artwork, artefacts, and open-access multimedia displays available across the public areas.

Warwick FAB

Three ideas

Departmental Identity - Space for Students

Each department has a ‘doorstep’ - an entrance area that both expresses departmental identity, and provides a space for students to land within their department. The need for these spaces, which were not contained within the original brief, became evident through discussion with the staff and students. It was only possible to achieve these areas by agreeing a reduction in the size of each academic office and using the net area saved to create a space for all.

Building: Faculty of Arts Building, Warwick University
Location: Warwick
Architect: Fielden Clegg Bradley

Useful Places - Seminar spaces without walls

Outside teaching periods, seminar rooms can be marooned places which are rarely used. To ensure that all spaces are used more regularly the FAB building includes seminar spaces with varying levels of enclosure. The removal of doors and walls makes spaces more visible and inviting for informal working and meeting.

We generally have deep fixed tables in these areas, like those in a library reading room. People know that in this type of space, it is ok to sit next to someone you don’t know. This just wouldn’t be the case if there was a door into spaces: where you often see a single person using a huge room.

Seminar space  - reading room

Neighbourhoods and Belonging - Academic Studios

The building pioneers an alternative to the standard HE model of academic offices arrayed along long impersonal corridors. Instead the ‘cluster floorplate’ allows each department to have its own identifiable ‘academic neighbourhood’ with academic offices focused around a space for academic gathering and with student social learning space in close proximity. Scaled academic communities such as these build upon the sense of belonging and departmental identity felt across the Faculty.

Academic Office

These three ideas, within the structure of the building, allow the Faculty of Arts to become more than a Faculty, but a community, a beacon for the arts in all their forms, and one of the most popular places on the campus to meet, study and share ideas - a place for conversation.

David Harris

Photos by Daniel Hopkinson and FCBStudios

Warwick FAB