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Scott Learning Commons garners kudos in design competition

Scott Learning Commons garners kudos in design competition

The Scott Library Learning Commons at York’s Keele campus has earned a major accolade for excellence in interior design.

At the 2011 Design Exchange Awards, a national competition focusing on the best in Canadian interior design, the Learning Commons received an honourable mention in the commercial category. The awards were announced in late November at a gala event in Toronto. York University's Learning Commons was one of only two postsecondary spaces in Canada to receive such recognition in the 2011 competition.

For Mark Robertson (right), associate University librarian, the kudos are particularly meaningful. "This award reflects the extraordinary team effort between the architect, library staff and Campus Services & Business Operations to make this space a reality," said Robertson. "This affirms the innovative nature of the Learning Commons and our vision for what it should be."

The renovations have been a huge hit with students, said Robertson, noting that the Learning Commons affirms the team’s desire to create a true student-centred space that is both innovative and functional.

"We [the team] took some risks with the design and approach to planning the space," he said. "What I find really interesting is that students understand the principle of the space and how it is meant to be used. When I talk to students using the Learning Commons, they intuitively understand the concept of the new space and they miror back to me the intent of the design. For many, it is a home base in a large institution and it is playing a huge role in enhancing their learning."

The Scott Learning Commons, which officially opened in October 2010, was an ambitious undertaking by York University to transform some 1,600 square metres of space located on the second floor of the Scott Library into a pedagogical showcase highlighting the shift from teacher-focused learning to social learning.

Above: York students take full advantage of the Scott Learning Commons Collaboratory, a group workspace

The creation of the space involved renovating a 40-year-old building to improve not only how the space is used, but also reducing its energy footprint. This meant revisiting the perceptions of a library as a quiet-only space and reinventing the library into a dynamic, energizing space that is responsive to students’ needs for group research and learning.

The project employs a maximum re-use strategy, respecting and enhancing the original exposed concrete library building. It reinvigorated the existing facility with universal design principals, especially intuitive accessibility, flexibility and natural daylight, while significantly reducing electric lighting. It is constructed from natural products and durable, low-emission materials.

Above: The Hill, part of the Collaboratory, offers a terraced seating area where students can plug in and stretch out

Flexibility was key to how the space was re-imagined by the design firm Brock James and Levitt Goodman Architects, who successfully translated the York Libraries staff's vision into the award-winning space. The learning-focused space takes into account the diversity of learning styles and provides students with the options they need to be successful in their academic quests. The space is divided into zones based on function, activities and noise levels. Soft seating, quiet study, group work booths and study tables offer something for everyone. The renovation added 340 additional seats for students, a key goal of the project.

Planning is underway for the second phase of the Scott Learning Commons, said Robertson. Subsequent renovations will include:

  • Two “smart” classrooms equipped with up-to-date multimedia technologies to support learning.
  • More areas for computing.
  • An airy quiet study room with floor-to-ceiling windows.

Many of the ideas for the Learning Commons were the result of consultations with students, said  Robertson. He, together with Professor Norma Sue Fisher-Stitt, co-chaired a committee of faculty, librarians, staff and students who developed and refined the concepts and programming for the Learning Commons.

"Our approach is generating a lot of buzz," said Robertson, who has been fielding calls from institutions as far away as Hong Kong and the Middle East. He noted that public libraries from across Canada have also expressed an interest in seeing the space.

To learn more about the Scott Learning Commons at York University, see YFile, March 1, 2010 and March 22, 2010, or visit the York Libraries website.

More about the Design Exchange Awards

Now in its 20th year, the annual competition celebrates the best in architecture, interior design, industrial design, landscape architecture, urban design, visual communications and fashion. The winning projects were judged based on their innovative approach to creating a solution, sustainability, acessibility, esthetics and function. The Design Exchange is a design centre and museum with a mandate to promote the value of design.  

Republished courtesy of YFile– York University’s daily e-bulletin.