a framework for designing student learning environments for the future

Aesthetics in local and international settings

Like comfort, the ideal aesthetics of learning spaces is one in which physical and mental sensibilities are able to  be integrated in such a way as to facilitate learning. Aesthetics reflect the culture of the society generating the aesthetic – therefore the  learning environment we are encouraging is one based on the needs of the learner and reflecting the culture of the specific university.

You will see in the examples below that each of the learning institutions we visited were developing a slightly different aesthetic – one that made use of the elements already in the space and existing in the generally accepted view of the institution by its users  –  such as historical buildings (Harvard) or industrial features (MIT).

The Nanotechnology Lab at Harvard University is a beautiful example of an aesthetic combining old and new, and a beautiful landscape view with a warm cosy interior.  The room has the latest in nanotechnology set in a traditional room with high ceilings and a full length window looking out onto a typical view of Harvard, as well as the comfort of leather couches.

The Nanotechnology Lab at Harvard University combines old with new, soft textures with ultra high tech, to create a visually stimulating, yet soothing, space for learning.

Brightly painted doors alleviate the monotony of one of the many industrial style corridors at MIT.

In stark contrast to old world feel of Harvard University, the older buildings of MIT have a distinctly industrial aesthetic.  The interior is dominated by unvarying long corridors with extensive piping exposed on the ceiling.  The corridors can be very oppressive and some might even say ugly.  However, some simple changes can be made with paint and floor coverings to alleviate the ugliness of these narrow spaces.

When MIT developed its STATA Centre they built on the existing industrial aesthetic of the campus but added lots of light and colour.

Painting the concrete floor creates an inviting spot for a student to sit and check his emails.

The people at Stanford University felt challenged when trying to make the J Henry Meyer Memorial library more aesthetically friendly for the students.  The building is a kindof cross between modernist and functionalist architecture – an emphasis on horizontal and vertical lines that makes the architecture very monotonous.   The building as it stands does not represent the learning aesthetic the University may want to present – it is neither old world nor cutting edge, rather just a functional building which serves as a library.  The staff have done their best to make the interior more inviting, such as adding soft furniture by the windows.  The furniture provides a bright and happy contrast to the austerity of the environment, and the location takes advantage of the natural light coming in through the regimented windows.

Soft furnishings brightening up the dull aesthetic of the J Meyer Memorial Library Stanford.

At TU Delft (Delft University of Technology, Netherlands) lockers (which are necessary for student comfort) have been integrated into the overall design of the building.  The wood surrounding the steel lockers provides a warm contrast in a very industrial looking building.

A brilliant combination of aesthetics and functionality – these glass walls in the North West Lab Building, Harvard University, are coated with a film that allows light in and and also doubles as a whiteboard.

The coating on the glass walls in the North West Lab Building at Harvard University not only lets the light in and doubles as a white board, but also offers the occupants of the rooms some privacy. From a distance the corridor appears completely white but as you walk down the hallway the busy rooms slowly reveal themselves.

Retro furniture placed strategically in a small space makes an inviting spot for students at MIT to gather informally to study or chat.

The Barker Library at MIT has turned a quirk of history – the painting of the dome – into a virtue by creating interesting light installations out of bookshelves and sculpture.

Barker Library MIT – the play of light and dark creates stimulation for the eye as well as a peaceful place to rest!

Another view of student at rest in Barker Library MIT

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