demaine architecture / education
/ RMIT Library
This project is the first stage in a program initiated by RMIT University to progressively update its library facilities. The project had a limited budget but large ambitions, to create a much more student and learning friendly environment, and to better support contemporary requirements for access to computers. The project is a common one in learning institutions. The development of on line resources might have been expected to result in a diminishing demand for libraries. Instead, the change in research culture has resulted in more collaborative and group based approaches to learning, reflected in new attitudes to pedagogy.
Students need more spaces for both discussion, group work and quiet individual learning, and on a densely developed campus such as at RMIT University’s city complex, these kinds of space are at a premium. Demaine initiated layout changes to create much more transparency within the library space, opening up vistas to windows at the perimeter of the building. A large lounge area fronting a display for new acquisitions was created at the entry point, fronted by full height glazing. Where originally there was a solid wall with dusty display boxes at the entry, now students can see straight into the library, observing students studying and interacting in comfortable lounge chairs and around elliptical group tables.
Facing this entry are 3 large plasma screens, with ever changing displays advertising activities both within the library and across the campus. The need for better support for technology was tackled as a research project. We reviewed systems adopted for ‘information commons’ and identified a tendency for these systems to impose a rigid and monovalent study culture. The large desk structures were not readily adaptable to changing requirements, and a lack of diversity in desk types made collaborative work difficult.
To overcome these problems, we experimented with breaking down the elements of the information commons into a kit of parts, addressing work surface, lighting, data cabling, power supply, PC and monitor support, privacy screens and chairs. Each of these elements is intended to be capable of being disconnected and rearranged, with even light fittings being clipped into a track and able to move to optimize lighting conditions as the work areas below were adapted and changed. The base workstation was developed as a single user ‘jellybean’ desk, which are clipped together in clusters around a relocatable power pole. This pole in turn attaches to the lighting track, which doubles as a conduit for data and power cabling. Poles can be relocated using simple tools and the clusters moved in an infinite number of combinations. The basic desk module is large enough for two persons work and discuss around a computer. The complementary oval group tables were designed to be able to be pushed up to the jellybeans to create a group work environment with line of sight to a shared computer screen for a number of students. Small ‘roving tables’ were intended to be used as required to give extra layout space at a jellybean. The overall layout was further refined with the creation of acoustically screened areas containing jellybeans arranged to encourage quiet individual work. The project was subject to analysis both during a prototyping stage, and later with post occupancy evaluations.
Utilization of the library increased by 40% from an already high base. The culture and feel of the library has improved to such an extent that the library administration is now concerned to ensure that this cultural shift is maintained as they move towards a much more comprehensive reconfiguration of the building. In the meantime, the lessons learnt from this project are now informing new design solutions and a second generation of jellybean style work areas with improved data and power management systems.
Simon Hanger, Michael Jeffreson, Donna Inglese
Total Project Area
2000 square metres
RMIT University City Campus, Building 8
New entrance, lounge, display and study areas, new furniture systems
Time for Completion
Swanston Street, Melbourne, Victoria