Today’s education spaces just aren’t what they used to be. But in a clear case of different not necessarily meaning bad, today’s education spaces tackle the same old problems of engagement and utility for students with a vigour and robust sense of innovation that has previously been absent.
Such was the case in Melbourne’s La Trobe University, whose Student Hub was recently upgraded by local Melbourne firm Harmer Architecture. Like today’s busy, hyperconnected students, the Hub does multiple – often disparate – things at once. Occupying a compact 500m2 footprint on the University campus, the Hub is multifunctional, encompassing a student development centre, breakout areas, and a transit lounge for students waiting for buses. However, instead of quelling the dynamism of these competing programs and smoothing over their differences into a happy medium, the Hub celebrates these characteristics.
In the same way, it celebrates the multi-tasking and flexibility that pervade all aspects of contemporary education culture and are beginning to infuse design within that space. The Hub taps into an emerging culture of adaptability and amenity provision in the educational sector that replaces a conventional staid, utilitarian approach. A roomy open floor plan is designed to accommodate the Hub’s three main different uses at different parts of the day, often simultaneously. Students are encouraged to linger in the space and enjoy the benefits that its flexible design and unique fit-out have to offer.
To achieve this flexibility, the designers had to carefully consider all elements of the design and ensure that the three programs – development centre, breakout space, and transit lounge – were allowed to flourish to their full potential. Fitout and furniture were considered particularly crucial to the success of the project, and the designers reached out to P4 for innovative solutions to the brief’s unique constraints and complexities.
Recognising that the Hub’s three functions pose a unique acoustic challenge – particularly for the sensitive environment of the student development centre – P4 supplied Cega single seater booths, statement acoustic management pods. Specified in strikingly bold, graphic colours, Cega adds vibrancy to the Hub while delivering high performance noise control. Their unique contoured design is specifically intended to eliminate distractions such as peripheral vision and external noise, while an open top allows ambient light to filter through. The booths were the ideal solution for the student development centre, which will be host to intimate conversations between students and advisors – Cega’s 360 degree swivel and profile cut tubular construction ensure the utmost level of privacy.
Elsewhere in the hub, seating is used to indicate a change in function. Kalea KA2 stackable chairs are used in breakout areas, their bright, ergonomically contoured seat shell providing a comfortable perching point during group and collaborative work sessions. Sumptuously curved and set atop a sleek bright chrome sled frame, Kalea KA2 is unflaggingly contemporary, seamlessly merging comfort with style.
In areas for relaxing, catching up with friends, or grabbing a bite to eat, the elegant Anna chair is resplendent in European beech timber. A curved European Oak seat and backrest ensures long term comfort will stand up to the wear and tear of the busy educational space, all the while embodying a clean aesthetic that is as functional as it is stylish.
For students waiting to start their commute, the Novo high back lounge provides a comfortable seat for relaxing and reclining. A plush upholstered seat pan and back are set into a solid kiln dried Victorian Ash timber frame that is at once comfortable and sturdy – waiting for the bus has never looked so good!
As the lines between design sectors continue to blur, designers are increasingly drawing inspiration from farther afield and producing creative, hybrid projects that blend the best of two – or more – worlds. The Student Hub at La Trobe University shows that there are many lessons to be learnt from the education space, and – dare we say it? – we can’t wait for the next class.