Wellbeing in Education Environments

A few months ago I visited the new Education Faculty building at QUT, designed by Wilson Architects and Henning Larsen, as the second LEAQ site visit for the year. After an interesting symposium on wellbeing, we took a self-guided tour of three levels of the new building.

The symposium part of our visit has been discussed here, so I’m going to talk about the building itself.

I’m really intrigued by the recent importance placed on university buildings as open all hours ‘sticky’ spaces. When I went through uni, the architecture studios were often lit up until the wee hours – but these were the only places on campus with activity, with an understanding that if you weren’t in class you should be at home. You were either in your locked building or walking hastily through the darkened landscape. It seems that there is now an appreciation for providing more variation in spaces for students to stay and study around their classes. You could argue it isn’t great for work-life balance to be at uni all the time, but the community aspect and social opportunity to learn together is surely beneficial. I’m pretty sure after some all-nighters in studio my fellow students and I solved many of the world’s problems, so hopefully this practice continues today, just in more conducive environments.

On the lower level of this building is a large courtyard space with mixed seating areas for small group or individual study, and larger bookable rooms for group work. As we toured around in the evening as dusk fell and the night got nearly instantly dark, as it is wont to do here in Brisbane, there were still students occupying the space and utilising the different settings. The skylight ceiling gave a beautiful sense of light and the space was set up to be enjoyed. The connection of this level with the adjacent library over the tiered garden creates a really lovely sense of togetherness across a large active campus.

With incredible floor-to-floor heights only dreamt about in Perth, the sense of light and space over the upper levels is incredible. Each of the class spaces are large and open, with a beautiful, simple ‘why didn’t I think of that’ sliding whiteboard detail to allow for flexibility in learning. The furniture is comfortable and neat and at times you think you are in a very sophisticated bar rather than a learning space. A very technologically-rich bar perhaps, with TV screens of various sizes seeming to appear on every available surface. To me this beautifully detailed interior design speaks of the university’s values of respect and appreciation for its students, as it creates an inspiring space for all the learning they do on campus. Wide ranging views across to the city from the large glazing compliment the main socialising spaces to create an incredibly beautiful space. Learning spaces have certainly changed, and it is great to see universities leading the way, creating better space to inspire the next generation who will be leading their own learning spaces in the future.

Of course you can’t talk about this building without talking about the mind-blowing 5m diameter spherical screen, seemingly precipitously suspended from a tiny-looking steel hanger. This large learning resource gives instant feedback on a number of learning activities accessible freely form the adjacent screen. It is hard to imagine this tall space without this additional tool, and it is certainly a functional draw-card to the large learning environment.

Overall the new building fits in with its surrounding academic and practical study spaces, and creates a unique opportunity for education students to learn practically about the impact of beautiful spaces on their learning, which will hopefully encourage them to create their own inspiring learning spaces, as teachers.

Happy visiting!

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