University of Exeter

In September 2012 I attended a one day conference at the University of Exeter entitled The Forum. The name taken from their new £48M development completed in May this year.

It is without doubt a striking building, with its sweeping copper and wood roof, large areas of glass permitting plenty of daylight and so creating a light and airy atmosphere inside the ‘street’. There are now spaces inside and out that offer students and staff a variety of learning spaces, social areas, shops, cafes, banks and student support offices. http://www.exeter.ac.uk/forum/

On the previous day I was fortunate to be given a tour of the attractive Streatham campus with staff from the Desktop and Learning Spaces Support team.The photographs that follow document the highlights together with a description and comments.

The student accomodation of Holland Hall, with its impressive terrace overlooking the Exe valley. To the back is a terraced area, forming an amphitheatre, in a modern take of the classical Roman style.

 

This water feature on the main Streatham campus is lacking any kind of social seating, which could be so useful for students and staff, the area has to be potential for a calm and verdant space for reflection, no pun intended.

The south side of the Forum, with terraced steps and seating, ideal for sunny days. There is a franchised cafe here and access to the upper floors of the Forum.

With the ever-reducing number of contact hours, students need more places to study. Much of the campus can be a part of the learning environment, now that wireless technology enables campus designers to be more creative and estates professionals to be more thoughtful in their provision of spaces for learning. So why not outside? By providing a small piece of the natural world, returning car parks to green spaces, planting trees, installing architectural seating and pleasant cafes instead of large concrete plazas and soulless thoroughfares.

The pleasant roof terrace cafe sits within the copper roof, however, the view across the city and beyond are limited to the tallest person.

The main entrance to The Forum, this used to be a car park…

…Once inside, it feels almost like a well fitted out shopping mall.

The wayfinding is very smart and clear

Inside The Forum I found this courtyard, no one seemed to be making use of this interior green space, perhaps it feels too public and exposed for comfort?

This room was very special, innovative and a considerable investment by Exeter. The sign above provides a brief explanation of the facility.

These collaborative tables allow 4 users to interact with the software and each other, sharing files across a desktop that extends to four virtual computers. Each table can interact with others in the room and for other users, there are wall mounted screens to see what it happening. A fascinating concept that with expert guidance and explanation, I am sure students will be excited to explore the relevance and effectiveness of this technology.

Next door is this seminar space with notebook laptops, specified ahead of the actual layout and furniture design. An interesting take on using different height desks and seating. This approach can be useful in offering choice to students although perhaps too rigid for collaborative activities.

On the first floor there is a balcony offering this row of seats and one long desk, complete with power and data connectivity. According to staff it is one of the most popular spaces for informal study. Perhaps students want to feel part of the social mix that the Forum provides, how much concentrated work goes on is debateable as students seem to be able to tune out of their surroundings. The space must create considerable levels of noise.

This view shows the auditorium on the right, a stunning construction of curved brick.

Inside, the extremely well designed auditorium, seating 4oo people, has illuminated steps that guide you to very comfortable and highly specified chairs.

Each chair has power and data connectivity, along with the ability to rotate so as to enable some measure of interaction with others.

The custom built lectern is designed to impress, but staff feel that it can be somewhat daunting for presenters with the array of technology mounted on top.

The following photo reveals that if the presenter is not particularly tall, they can almost be obscured from the audience.

The space has 3 data projectors, cleverly installed into the stunning wooden ceiling

A typical area of informal seating outside the auditorium. It is always good to see areas like this, allowing for that social learning process to continue, often occuring after a lecture. I would be surprised if students didn’t move this furniture around to suit themselves.

——

This large open space is called The Sanctuary, an attempt to create an informal social learning facility. Exeter have used colour, graphics, lighting and of course furniture to create somewhere different, somewhere memorable and engaging. These are often very subjective issues and there have been issues about taste and appropriateness. However, it is a well sued space that can be utilised for other activities which the unviersity finds very efficient.

Although unremarkable, this postgraduate study space offers students a choice and what I like about it was the scale. Not too big, which means it should not get too noisy, it also has small desktop screens which can be very beneficial to those needing to concentrate without too many distractions. Power modules for laptops are essential as we know that battery life is still woeful for anything more than an hours’ use.

This elaborately equipped space has been modified and used as an experimental teaching room over recent years. It is able to host videoconferencing sessions, it has lecture capture facilities, group study areas, interactive technology, along with power and data for each student.

The standard of technology and installation work is very high, clearly a result of good working relationships with their preferred supplier.

I was surprised that in such a raked theatre style room, that it was felt appropriate to install a group study table, especially as it was so narrow.

These final two images are taken from a typical seminar room, with a pleasing use of muted colour and extremely well designed signage for staff needing help with the technology. However, staff felt that the rooms were overspecified and that most tutors just needed a computer in each room connected to a large wall mounted LCD screen, so dispensing with lecterns and data projectors.

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