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Monash College International Business School by Jackson Clements Burrows

From ‘teacher focused’ to ‘student focused’, we are now able to customise and personalise our educational needs. How then, is our industry responding to these new educational models and typologies focused around Hubs, Labs and Crowd-Sharing?


August 11th, 2017

Tertiary education has undergone considerable changes within the past five years, let alone the last ten or twenty. Pedagogies that once had teacher-focused learning at their core now advocate a model that’s student-centred, placing emphasis on a more socially negotiated process of study. For interior designers and architects working within this sector, the challenge of meeting both teacher and student needs within an increasingly informal learning environment has been great on a creative level. The upside of this educational shift is that design outcomes are not only acutely relevant and more functional, they’re also dynamic and innovative in both concept and aesthetic.

The recently completed Monash College International Business School (MCIBS) in the heart of Melbourne’s CBD is one such example of successfully responsive design. Local architecture practice Jackson Clements Burrows (JCB) was tasked with converting a rabbit warren of five existing buildings spanning an entire city block into a cohesive space conducive to learning. “It was about creating a plan that has cross-campus connections, destination points and interstitial spaces that students can move through, as well as facilitating students’ incidental social interactions,” explains frequent JCB collaborator interior designer and Principal at Jackson Interiors Geraldine Maher, who was responsible for the project’s initial space planning and concept design.

With a generous 3200sqm floor plate, Maher along with project architect, JCB’s David Burton, had plenty of room with which to work. Their resulting plan is organised around a primary pathway that connects each building. “We were trying to establish a clear and logical arrangement of space with key destinations that help orient the end user,” Burton notes. “But because it’s a business school it couldn’t feel too much like a school – it needed to act as a transitional space somewhere between a university and a workplace.”

Meeting and consultation rooms, classrooms, breakout study areas, a student lounge, micro recording studio and library are positioned around the pathway’s bends and curves. It’s an appealingly organic scheme – determined in part by four large existing light wells – that overwhelmingly supports a student-focused learning model. Importantly, classrooms and lecture theatres don’t resemble conventional linear learning environments that typically feature rows of chairs facing a front podium. Rather, each space is flexible in layout, with tables and chairs on casters, allowing both teachers and students freedom to configure them as required, promoting an easy student-teacher interface and active engagement.

These customised environments encourage group discussion and also comfortably accommodate classes of differing sizes, from small to large. As Burton explains, “It’s a flip model of a traditional classroom as students are now engaging with content online and then coming into the facility and having a group discussion around it, rather than just having a lecture being delivered to them.” The process is based on student-centred choice, with a view to learners taking more responsibility for their own personal development.

If students so choose, they can also utilise the breakout study areas to access their institution’s administrative and learning support tools. While this further reinforces the plan’s flexibility, it also highlights Burton and Maher’s objective to create a ‘sticky’ campus; a key part of their brief to overcome potential ‘flip classroom’ cons. “In the past few years what’s become apparent with this new model is that it’s actually a very isolating experience. Students were graduating with no friends or social connections,” says Maher. “But university is just as much about networking and being part of a community as it is about learning. So now there’s a shift to provide environments where students can just hang out.”

Fortunately, the single-level MCIBS facility has an outdoor deck that encourages students to stay on campus. Yet the most effective means to activating the school and maintaining vibrancy is a number of study hubs and destination points that house recharging stations for personal devices, as well as plenty of places from which to buy (good) coffee. Burton and Maher have intelligently integrated technology into their scheme, acknowledging its importance in the learning journey. But while new technologies will undoubtedly impact future pedagogies, design must always place the student and teacher at its core, because the fundamental need for human interaction and connection will always remain.

Photography by Earl Carter

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