Month: August 2014

Open learning space

As part of a large scale building project of a trade training centre incorporating an industrial kitchen and dining room, a large open space area was created on the top floor of the college immediately above the purpose built industrial facility. This upper space was a secondary aspect of the design and its purpose was not identified until late in the building project. It was commissioned as a ‘flexible learning centre’ and furnished with modern and relatively mobile furniture and carpet with patterns to direct learning possibilities. The goal was to create unique and new teaching and learning options and opportunities in an otherwise quite traditional teaching and learning school context.

The space also houses two classroom spaces with glass petitions and a glass walled faculty staff room. The staff room has been allocated for use by the Student Support Team (SST – supporting those with disabilities and other learning needs)

An initiation process was implemented by teaching and learning staff, who developed a plan and presented ideas to promote the centre use. This information was shared with all staff during staff meetings. An open door policy across all faculties was planned to encourage communal ownership. Part of the initiation into the space included the scheduling of faculty classes to use the space during lesson times to encourage team teaching, sharing of ideas and development of pedagogy for using open learning environments.

In its 20 months, this space is often empty during the school day or when used, regularly it is for lecture style presentations. Little innovative, flexible use occurs. Students gravitate to an area of fixed furniture in the back corner whenever they can. It is not open to flexible student use outside of structured lesson times.

In my investigations and interviews with colleagues about this space and its use, I discovered various points that indicate a need for evaluation of process in order to improve the outcomes for the use of this space.

  • As it was not purpose built, the arrangement of the space was more of an afterthought than a carefully designed learning centre.
  • There was no consultation with student or staff users about the design and final arrangement of the space. It was a process led by senior college staff.
  • Significant senior college staff changes occurred during the process of design and construction and ownership of the process was handed over to others.
  • Although communal ownership was desired, care of the space has been allocated to the SST which impacts its use by others
  • The acoustics were not initially considered and noise from the downstairs walkway and dining area can be disruptive.
  • Some consultation with resident faculty members regarding furniture occurred, but not with other staff users of the space.
  • As a very large space with some angular furniture, it can be hard to arrange in such a way that feels comfortable and makes good use of the space. Group work can feel awkward with the angular or rounded tables (that form a very large circle when grouped together)
  • There has been little professional development for teachers in regards to the variety of ways that they might use the space
  • Teachers have on the whole, not been informed about the carpet patterns as a directing device
  • In 2013, teachers were scheduled to use the space; however this may not have been the teacher’s choice and may limit their ownership of activities in these times. This process has not continued into 2014.

Essentially how might we implement activities in this room that enhance learning?

Some considerations:

  • It would seem that whilst improved learning may be desired and anticipated, it may not eventuate. How would we know? What can be done to enable this?
  • What measurement is in place to determine whether use of this space is a success?
  • What professional development could be provided to teachers to engage them in consideration of innovative ways they could utilise the area?
  • How can we prototype activities and use of space to consider improvements?
  • How can we evaluate improvements in the use of this space?

Images of space

Corner nook

Corner nook

Electronic whiteboard

Electronic whiteboard




View into void space


20140717_124343 (1)


Large round table configuration

Large round table configuration




Blog Post #3


Our college is a Canberra girls’ school, where quality, holistic, inclusive education for girls is of utmost value. Our school buildings will be 50 years old next year and all areas of the school were originally traditional, heavy school architecture. The school is generally still traditional in regards to teaching and learning. Over the past 5 years, extensive building work has taken place to upgrade and update areas of the college, providing a number of spaces that are open, airy and make good use of light. The new college cafeteria, opened in April 2014, is one such space.

The Problem

Our school cafeteria is a complete redesign of the previous canteen in the same space. The renovated area is visually appealing and feels more like a café than a traditional school canteen. Whilst this space was designed and arranged to be modern and comfortable, as Simon discusses, prototyping and careful planning can fall short of the reality and how the laws of nature will affect the final building (Simon, 1973: 188). In this case, the actual service area could be more serviceable. At busy times, it is a heavily congested space where students lining up for service are standing amongst students who are seated on ottomans, lounges and at benches. Once they reach the service area, there is a narrow walk through space between a wall and support pillar and bench. It then opens out to the service area where at times, students come in from the opposing side and access the service area without lining up. The actual service bench has two small spaces between bain-maries and another support pillar and these are the ‘windows’ through which cafeteria staff serve. It is relatively functional when not busy, but quite chaotic at busy times. The remainder of the room is well laid out with couches and tables, however it is often left quite messy at the end of breaks as, other than bins, there are no facilities for students to clean up after themselves.


The college Mission Statement includes the following ideas:

  • Valuing consultative, cooperative processes

  • Enthusiastic, hopeful and empowering

  • Committed to justice

  • Open to the poor



With these ideas in mind, we want to offer students:

  • Opportunities to act responsibly and have autonomy over their choices and decisions.

  • Circumstances that allow provisions for students with financial difficulties to access services

  • Spaces that are safe, with capacity for equitable use, in that no groups are perceived to ‘own’ a space

  • Adequate supervision and visibility through open design to maintain a safe school environment and limit chances of bullying and segregation, ” addressing ‘blind spots’ where bullying could take place ” (Queensland Government 2010, Page 30)

  •  A welcoming, safe, inclusive  space that is suited to relaxed, social interaction during break times.
  • Flexible usage, for example, that senior students may use the space to study on free lines, working collaboratively or privately

  • An opportunity to engage in the design process to assess the existing structure and suggest ideas


  • Columns that divide the space are structural

  • Large student numbers mean that at peak times the space is very crowded.

  • Creation of a safe and comfortable space requires consideration about furnishings, layout and clear requirements for the use of space.

  • A school cafeteria can be a financial divider between students as not all can afford to use the service

  • Students regularly leave mess in the space


  • Capacity in building regulations and budget for further renovations

  • Safety regulations in regards to providing microwave access for student use

  • What options there are in regards to mobile food trolleys

  • If it is possible to inexpensively change the access on the bain-maries

  • How the cafeteria staff would feel about watching for potential shop lifters and managing this should it occur

 Ideas for Redesign

  • In order to provide opportunities for autonomy, the relatively open space of the servery area could facilitate a walk through self-serve area, where users are able to self-select and pay for their purchases at a register at the end of the service area

  •  Rearrangement of furniture closest to the servery line up area to maximise space
  • To provide opportunities for inclusivity and allow the opportunity for all users to access hot food, a bench and divider could be incorporated with provision of microwaves for heating food

  • To provide an opportunity for responsible care of the space, cleaning equipment could be stationed on hooks on 2 of the support pillars in the room, with cleaning wipe dispensers located on a number of pillars throughout the room.


Existing layout



Draft layout one

Draft layout two - revised following group feedback

Draft layout two – revised following group feedback

Comments on peer blogs:

Patricia’s blog:

Monique’s blog:

Liz’ blog:


Engine Service Design & Walker Technology College. Dear Architect: The Vision Of Our Future School: Walker Technology College

Working Together: A toolkit for effective school based action against bullying. Queensland Government 2010.

Simon, H. A. (1973). The structure of ill-structured problems. Artificial Intelligence. 4, pp. 181–201. Retrieved from:

St Clare’s College Website.

Blog Post 2

Description of space


The area I have chosen to observe is my school’s cafeteria, opened as part of current building works earlier in the year. It is very different from the traditional school canteen and is essentially a visually appealing space, which has been set up with benches, stools, café style lounges, tables and chairs. I have focused on the main service area for this task and I have spent time observing the area before school, at morning recess and again at lunch time.

 20140801_085147 (1)  20140801_085145  20140801_085141  20140801_084515


  • Entrance to the service area is through double glass sliding doors.
  • A large bench and some stools separate the service counter from the area closest to the main entrance.
  • Two large planters continue the bench line to extend the division of the space near the service area.
  • Students move to the left around this divider to line up for service.
  • As there are often 2 staff members serving, students sometimes move in from the right to access the service counter at the right, jumping ahead of those who have lined up.
  • Students seem to patiently overlook queue jumpers and just wait and chat with friends
  • There are two narrow spaces between bain maries and support columns through which staff serve
  • The space in the line-up area also has benches and stools around the edge and a series of ottomans with a lounge against the windows.
  • At the start of lunch at the busiest canteen time, this area is very congested, with lined up students as well as people occupying the seating.
  • The walkthrough space into the service area is quite narrow, but opens out on the servery side of the dividing bench, where the ‘line’ becomes a bit disordered
  • The rest of the room includes lounges, tables and ottomans
  • After the main breaks some of the ottomans get left lying around the room in random places
  • Two teachers supervise the space during breaks. There was only one staff member on duty here but issues arose with rubbish left behind and the congestion in the space
  • There are a number of large support columns, as this room is on the ground floor with two floors above
  • The columns have dictated much about the layout of the space and have limited flexibility
  • Senior students rarely/never use this space during break times to sit
  • The floor is tiled
  • The lighting is quite low, ambient
  • Colour scheme is neutral (brown, grey, white black) with some red stools and ottomans
  • The room is cold as there are no heaters yet
  • There are approximately 1000 students enrolled in the school and at the busiest times, there would be approximately 200 people in the space.

Comments on peer blogs:

Bec’s Blog

Margo’s reflective journal

Jerry’s blog



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