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Visit to Glasgow Caledonian University Saltire Centre and Learning Café Chat and Tour with Les Watson Les Watson was the Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University with responsibility for the resources and infrastructure side of learning – the equivalent of Helen Hayes here, and was the project champion and visionary for the buildings I visited. He is no longer in post at the institution but is available for advising on space issues, speaking at events and consultancy work on change management more broadly. It is worth noting the context of this visit is that this building is on the radical edge of what has been designed so far, none of the reports or my own research has thrown up anything very similar to this, and Les was not aware of one either. It is a generic study space incorporating the library so is not about structured teaching space, although of course it would have knock on effects on what you might need elsewhere. Some from the library have previously visited so can also inform discussion of what we might learn from it. Although it is a library equivalent building the lessons are by no means for library only but some of the features could be applied elsewhere. It is a good example of us to use because even if you don’t like everything about it is striking and should help encourage the debate we are seeking to have. The initial project was to build a learning café in the base of the library as was, this dates back to 2001 and its popularity in the end helped as a testing ground case for innovation on a wider scale. This learning café still operates in what is now an otherwise empty old library building, with the rest of the space earmarked for offices. Despite the lack of link to other spaces, it is still being well used, possibly with an element of overspill with some students reacting to the popularity and business of the new building. The Saltire centre itself makes good use of various soft features, such as warmer or cooler areas to indicate which type of area it is, along with pictures showing the themes of airport departure lounge or living room, through to a serious voice being used when the lift is on the upper floors, and even an audio reminder to be silent on the top floor. Part of the reason for the very high usage is that as well as journeying up through the building in a conventional way it is linked by walkways to the main teaching buildings on either side with entrance from those to an upper level of the centre. The use of very effective sound insulation means that areas that are not physically far apart or do not appear to be very separated from where you have just been can actually be very different in noise level, feel and atmosphere. Part of the motivation for the initial vision and the boldness employed at each stage is the recognition that Glasgow Caledonian needs to carve out its own unique ethos within the sector, you want students coming to you before of what you particularly offer, not as a second choice to a higher ranked institution. The student body is quite big at 15,000 and many of the courses are vocational. Many are from the greater Glasgow area and from non traditional backgrounds, not all have a good study space at home so there is a strong desire for informal and relaxing study space within the institution. The institution’s other managerial team members were concerned over the institutions low ranking in various league tables. The new build has enabled turnaround in the space per student table as 2/3 of the stock went into compact shelving and 5% into store to make more room for the students, went from 1100 to 1800 spaces. To some extent you can try and anticipate future ways of learning although each institution has its own direction to some extent in this regard. Flexibility here though is regarded as the most important aspect of the development, very little even on the upper shelves with the stock is completely fixed and could not be re-configured as required. Sheltered areas give a look and feel of more permanent space but in fact are light and easily moved. Because of the institution moving all its subjects onto the one central site and the nature of the building design with its informal nature and entrance/gateway area it has become a hub that is well used as a meeting point, and for posters and presentations about various extra curricular activities that are taking place in the institution. The underlying philosophy behind making the changes was the idea that buildings are for people and users were consulted and existing usage monitored. Things only take up space in the building if their usage justifies the. The use of booth areas for printing and copying mean that without these areas taking up much space it avoids too much disturbance to other students, there are some points located on each floor so students don’t have to travel round the building and then que. The canteen area itself is quite small but students have points on each floor where it is ok to sit eating their lunch while continuing to work informally, reflecting the way people naturally interact in office working environments already. Although all concerns should be taken into account, projects can be hindered from ever reaching to potential if you try and cater for every possible minority view, it is important to cater to the majority of users when a project is sufficiently important to the institution it should not be vetoed. The general atmosphere in the building in one of a buzz or hum of conversation. However the quietest area is meant to be and was completely quiet, although the issues managing the third floor as a fairly but not completely quiet space are more complex. The building is glass and allows for a decent amount of natural light, but this is supplemented by a feature that shines the light into mirrors to increase its effect. At night the building is lit up partly as a symbolic statement showing that the University is there as a centre of learning in the heart of the city and is seen by a lot of people as building is on cusp of the M8. Les would be a really good person to involve in our event. He usually does keynote speaking but have asked him to consider whether he could deliver an interactive session on use of generic study space. He has taken the date down, I need to get back in contact with him but if Birmingham speaker fell through we could always use him for a keynote address but would then need someone else to provide the example of that type. You might want to involve him in the future too as things evolve, brining sceptics on board and so forth.
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