Designing a Better English Building

English Department faculty, students, and visitors offer feedback about how they use current space in the English Counseling Services Building and about the department’s strengths (“compassion,” “incredible faculty,” “fully funded M.A.”) and values (“community,” “creativity,” “curiosity,” “coffee”) ~ October 2019

As part of a service learning project this academic year, graduate students in Todd Gabbard‘s ARCH 807 “Architecture Design Studio” are preparing a redesign of our English Department space, so it could best serve the needs of faculty, staff, and students.

The collaboration began last summer when Todd — as an associate professor in Architecture and a recent graduate of our program (M.A. ’18, Creative Writing) — approached me with an idea that could provide his students with a real-life, client-based project and provide English with a tailored, researched design for a new space, should the opportunity arise for a new building.

“Our goal,” as Todd wrote to me at the time, “will be to inform ourselves as best we can of the life and identity of your department with a minimum of disruption.”

During the fall semester, Todd’s students first conducted research and reviewed case studies on best practices in higher education architecture and learned about engaged research principles for client interaction. Next, they split into teams to consult with distinct populations connected to our work in English and our current space:  undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, administrative spaces, classroom spaces, and areas for individual and collaborative research/creative activity.

They also developed multiple ways to gather feedback: tours of our current space, client interviews, interactive display boards (such as the one pictured above, placed near the entrance to the building, where we learn that department values include “community,” “creativity,” “curiosity,” and “coffee”), conversations with faculty and students during our annual fall open house (pictured below), and classroom observations.

At our annual fall Open House, English Department faculty and students review different kinds of classroom and office designs and share feedback with graduate students in ARCH 807 “Architecture Design Studio” ~ 1 October 2019

A final step during the fall semester was an online survey asking faculty and students about their current experience of spaces in the ECS Building as well as their preferences for future spaces for classes, studying, and collaboration.

The next stage involves developing the “program” for the building — a set of requirements that the final design must incorporate, including quantitative items such as room sizes, number of rooms, and type of rooms as well as qualitative parameters such as interior environmental conditions, sustainability, desired spatial qualities, departmental identity, and the role of the building in the life of the department. We will then receive several sample designs for a building, tailored to our mission and work in English.

As the clients for this complex and engaging service learning project, we are excited to see the designs that will emerge during this spring semester.

Our thanks to Todd and his graduate students for this opportunity to learn about ourselves and about best practices in architectural design for higher education. Watch this space for an update later this semester!

Karin Westman, Department Head


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