Active Learning for Perpetual Change

| August 30, 2018

by Richard Munday

Dynamic living environments provide students with exceptional residential experiences that foster a culture of academic success. They help students prepare to thrive in the area of perpetual change by meeting young peoples’ developmental needs and advancing the evolution of the educational process.

These residence halls require an architecture that enables new pedagogies to flourish and laboratories in which to reinvent them, approaching teaching and learning as experimental, iterative processes with students as change agents.

UConn’s Peter J. Werth Residence Tower (Werth Tower) illustrates the opportunities and challenges of designing for these dynamic programs in residential settings. The residence hall’s holistic application of the living-and-learning model enables technology-enhanced, active, student-centered pedagogy in the context of residential education. UConn’s decision to locate it at the brow of the Hilltop Precinct positions NextGen as a campus beacon, symbolizing the importance of its pioneering mission. The resulting residence hall creates a welcoming, inspiring place for fostering collaborative community devoted to innovative living and learning.

This innovative residence provides a home for 727 students as well as community-gathering and collaboration places to encourage their academic success and stimulate innovation across disciplines. The 210,000sf residence hall houses mostly freshmen and sophomores, in eight living-and-learning communities. The majority of rooms are doubles, with some singles available for RAs and mentors. Six apartments bring hall directors and graduate students to work together with the learning communities in residence. The building offers a large event suite, including the NextGen Forum and Idea Lab, with dedicated seminar rooms for each learning community. These spaces are designed to give learning communities opportunities to host special events and programs that expand and enrich exploration of their thematic foci, such as guest speakers, workshops, and social gatherings.

A unique feature of NextGen is its Learning Community Innovation Zone (LCIZ), designed to support individual and group projects and encourage development of practical problem-solving, invention, and teamwork skills.

The makerspace offers state-of-the-art equipment such as 3D printers, a textile station, laser cutter, wood-working equipment and tools, Arduino kits, mobile white boards, and much more. It is open for use by all Learning Community students, creating a gathering place for those residing in other halls across campus.

Next Generation Connecticut Hall embodies the house model composed of powerful domestic archetypes like the shared main entrance, shared circulation, social stair, social heart, and room of one’s own to help young residents feel welcome and at home while beginning independent lives away from home and family.

Configuring circulation pathways and a social heart as places to see and be seen unselfconsciously, where one may choose freely among observing, joining, and passing by, encourages interaction, bringing residents into contact with new people and ideas.

Connecting front and courtyard side main entrances, an inviting lobby and circulation armature leads residents past openings and glass areas that reveal a variety of social spaces where they can meet friends, encounter new people and new activities, await each other, or simply people-watch.

A suite of nonresidential spaces gives Werth Tower its social heart, while enabling residents to be inventive. Welcoming and inspiring spaces gather a community and encourage its collaboration and innovation through recreational and creative activities. Their transparent partitions reveal activities to passersby and invite observation and involvement. Throughout the building, flexible furnishings, state-of-the-art technology, and plentiful trackable and writeable walls cater to unconventional, spontaneous use of space and time, encouraging students to touch down everywhere and anytime to collaborate and innovate freely and creatively.

State-of-the-art technology plays a supporting role, with wired and wireless, fixed and portable systems, subservient to placemaking for welcoming and inspiring community and incubating its discoveries. Even in the technology-intensive makerspace, with its 3D printer and other state-of-the-art equipment, a studio-style environment encourages outside-the-box uses and creative applications.

The planning and design strategies used in shaping Werth Tower enable it to foster vibrant living-and-learning communities as hoped, with residents responding positively. University learning communities staff gathered data and plan new programs to take full advantage of its capabilities. The environment helps students adjust to college life and transition to community-style living, fostering academic success, innovation, and community. It supports students’ personal, interpersonal, and intellectual growth through participation in Living-Learning Communities.

 

Richard Munday, AIA, is a principal at Newman Architects. His focus is higher education campuses, K-12 schools, and urban planning.

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