On Space and the Education Program

As we grow, our spaces need to evolve, and the way things evolve can be difficult to predict. Whether we need to fashion a third bedroom out of a Manhattan living room, or create more appealing space for an expanding Education Program, we anticipate that content is prime; aesthetics and functionality, key; light, tone, color, shape, and technology, the design of the dream ahead. Just like Eric Carle’s Hermit Crab, our dilemma is that we outgrow things, but in the process we learn to see the future of exciting possibilities.

Beautifully renovated space has served our program well, encouraging a blended and flexible process of learning that also grows our community. Especially important for Socratic conversation, circles sympathetically allow all voices to be heard, as discussants share their thoughts and experiences on universal topics of humanity. Circles create warm and welcoming environments, so we are mindful in assembling soft seats in the second floor open area. But could Socratic method be enhanced by better integration of learning technologies? Imagine a semi-circular, surround sound screen that projects questions and incorporates the latest interpretations from YouTube and other resources? E-book displays supplement or replace hard copies on the relevant theme.

Like a circle, Everett Café and the library atrium are welcoming spaces and set a joyful tone as library patrons enter Russell Hall. Would we filter classical music through collaborative group spaces if it serves to soothe and relax? Stream pop music or bluegrass by TC members on Friday nights at Gottesman? Talking Everett, why not turn convert news posters into something more creative: a sharable database of lesson plans featured online and book-marked in the curriculum stacks? Take a step beyond the beloved physical poster as classroom teaching tool.

Macs, screens, wireless microphones, LCD projectors, audio and more technology equip the two larger classrooms for book, guest, and film talks.  Room 305, the Schwartz or “yacht room”, boasts a long table that encourages us to climb aboard and join the crew that sails the seas of education, psychology, and the applied heath sciences. Room 306, Goodman, is more formal, with its inward slanting tables and option for front panel table — more like smaller boats racing to the finish line. But what if book, guest, and film talks occur in more dramatic, interactive spaces? Fancy a hologram where participants step into the bright page of a Teachers College Press book, or enter a dark scene in an educational documentary, to probe a teaching question, or surface an innovative solution to the latest challenge in American education today?

The most ubiquitous of offerings, workshops happen on all floors, both in and out of the library, using a variety of approaches and technology.  The lesson here is portability and flexibility, with implications for mobile applications and greater access to scholarly resources in all diverse mediums, including our catalog, accessible at last by cell phone.

It is not so much the physical structure of Russell Hall that moves us, but the space for what we choose to do within. Canadian architect and urban planner Arthur Charles Erickson calls it the “spiritual dimension of architecture.” Contrary to the staid, imposing, red brick Gothic style of our building — with its dedicated book tower reaching high up to the heavens — is the ever-changing process of learning and evolving forms through which we deliver it.