The Grass is Always Greener


Millikan Laboratory and Andrew Science Hall, Pomona College, California, USA By EHDD Architecture

For years now, in every campus we have visited we have watched students sitting on the steps of buildings chatting, reading books or improvising impromptu study spaces on lawns. It’s no surprise to see this really as most people enjoy reading a book, meeting with friends or having a coffee outdoors and without wishing to get too long winded there is a great deal of research and theory regarding our connection to the natural world and the de-stressing effect this has on us.

We are always being challenged by our clients to think about new types of spaces that would significantly improve the student experience, and for several years we have been exploring the notion of outdoor learning spaces. Many students we have spoken to have highlighted how sheltered outdoor areas would ideally allow them to read, write, have meetings and group discussions, or even hold informal lectures and tutorials outdoors, creating a functional and not just aesthetically pleasing campus.

Although we often recommended the concept of outdoor learning to universities, few are willing to take such a bold step, and we think that this is a lost opportunity. The continuing expansion of universities across the UK is putting pressure on existing learning space. Whether indoors or outdoors, space is a valuable asset on university campuses and outdoor learning environments could provide a new and exciting opportunity. Moreover, the drive for increased cross-departmental collaboration seen recently in Higher Education could be aided by making these common spaces inhabitable, turning the whole campus into a learning landscape where people from all backgrounds can meet either by design or by accident and share ideas. Our research has also shown that there is a clear link between the design of campuses, their buildings and facilities, and student and staff recruitment and satisfaction. Such innovative spaces would almost certainly give universities a competitive edge.

Our team have been actively researching outdoor learning spaces for some time now, and as part of our tenth-anniversary celebrations, we will be creating the blueprints for a range of experimental spaces. Our ideas range from more formal, sheltered study spaces, to considered and informal landscaping that creates environments where students can take ownership and make the space their own. During our research phase we unearthed some great examples of outdoor spaces some of which have been designed specifically for learning, and some which we think could inspire future outdoor learning environments and we thought we would share these with you. We would love to hear any ideas that you might have on this topic or any successes or failures that you might have come across.


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