Programmed Interaction

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July 8, 2022



By Andrew Lough

Take a moment to reflect back on your education.  What do you remember?  Is it the principles of XYZ concept, or is it the interaction with a fellow student, professor, or professional while working to learn XYZ?  For most of us, our educational journey is filled with interactions with others that have shaped our experiences.  These interactions take place in classrooms, labs, corridors, lobbies, common areas…any place that people can come together to interact.

My memories are filled with late-night desk crits from a fellow night owl to help work through a design idea, a conversation in the commons as we grab a quick snack or cup of coffee, meeting in a classroom after hours to help each other with structures homework, or a study break with an indoor game of wiffleball…complete with improvised tape ball and trash paper roll bat.  College students are resourceful, resilient, and can be a bit rambunctious.  We need to remember this as we build our space programs for facilities to ensure we promote space for interactions.

Formal spaces (classrooms and labs) are the focus of most academic space programming efforts which is to be expected as they are the foundational experiences for higher education learning.  The student/faculty, student/student interactions in these spaces are dictated by the pedagogy of the course and must be accommodated in the space by having the right configuration, furniture, equipment, and technology.  A lot of time, effort, and study go into the programming and design of these spaces.

Equally important is the programming of the informal spaces and the informal interactions.  Where do those conversations that start in the classroom get continued? When you bump into a colleague in the corridor can you step out of the circulation stream to discuss something?  Many times these spaces are assumed to be accounted for in the NASF (Net Assignable Square Foot) to GSF (gross square foot), but this pushes them to the category of nice to haves and not essential to the functionality of the building.  Space programs need to more purposely allocate space to these interactions as they form the basis of our memories of our own educational experiences.  This can be done a number of ways from allocating a certain percentage of NASF as interaction space or being more intentional and identifying specific spaces and areas based on the intended occupant load within the facility.

The education experience is filled with unique and memorable interactions.  These interactions are where we make lifelong connections and provide color to our educational journey.  They are too valuable to not be intentionally programmed and planned, which will, in turn, allow for spaces to be stretched and tested beyond the intention…as college students are encouraged to be rambunctious.

Want to learn more? Connect with Andrew on LinkedIn, here.