Design: With a flip of a switch you can change space for classes to private meetings

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According to the architects and interiors experts at Dyer Brown, good design can contribute to an enhanced higher-education experience for students by making campus resources and amenities more easily accessible, visible and efficient, with less time spent waiting.
The firm’s recent revamp of Northeastern University’s 3,100-square-foot Media Services department is a case in point: a small, high-impact intervention with the potential to greatly boost satisfaction for a large portion of the student population. The Media Services space serves as a hub for the school’s College of Arts, Media and Design, where students can check out audiovisual equipment, access printing, collaborate on projects with peers and instructors, attend tutorials and lectures, and display both finished and in-progress artwork.
“The equipment-checkout process was too slow, in part because the storage area wasn’t suited to the inventory,” says Erin Powell, AIA, project architect with Dyer Brown. “The university recognized this, and selected us to redesign the department office to support enhanced staff performance, and to make the rest of the space more effective and useful for students and faculty.”
The Dyer Brown team designed rows of high-density, customized contemporary millwork as part of an effective, easy-to-use storage system. With compartments sized specifically for the department’s large and diverse equipment inventory, the custom shelving is geared toward aligning and coordinating the checkout process with the web-based app used by students and staff. The architects also installed a lock-secured Dutch door that doubles as a service counter when the top is open.
Then, to boost engagement and visibility, Dyer Brown redesigned the main entrance and collaboration space in ways that connect the department visually to the busy corridor outside. In addition to replacing the walls with full-height glass, the design team brought finishes such as carpet tiles from inside the space flooding into the corridor, drawing attention to the department itself and the finished works on display in the hall.
Inside, tables and chairs on casters allow for quick, easy reconfiguration and easy-access casework for materials and utensils support individual and team project work. Natural wood finishes and pops of color make the room approachable and welcoming, a warmer alternative to the conventional industrial “white box” approach. Additionally, part of the ceiling features an installation of wood baffles, breaking up the large volume and signifying a heads-down work area.
One section can be closed off completely by a folding wall installation, with full-height “smart glass” that can be obscured or rendered totally opaque with the flip of a switch when the space is needed for classes or private meetings.
“We’ve been fortunate to work with Northeastern University on several renovations and realignments, with Media Services being the latest,” says Rachel Woodhouse, NCIDQ, principal and director of operations for Dyer Brown. “As with all of our higher-ed work, we developed the specific design solution to support the institutional mission, with the ultimate goal of fostering a sense of community, continuity, and shared purpose.”