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A space to call our own

Luke Baker | 10 Apr 2017 | Comments

Staff attraction and retention has always been a worry for universities. With only a limited number of brilliant researchers and lecturers out there, universities can’t afford to lose good people because of outdated facilities and lacklustre estates.

So university buildings aren’t just buildings anymore. They’re a promotional device, a way of demonstrating ‘we invest in our staff’. The new building on campus needs to perform all the tasks of Hercules, while also being very flexible and very academically specific. And what’s more, it needs to somehow reduce the financial burden on the university, not exacerbate it.

One way we can create iconic buildings without creating too big of a burden on an estate’s budget is through utilisation. A smaller, newer building should be significantly less expensive than a dispersed, aging estate. Unfortunately, utilisation in universities is traditionally low. This is due to high levels of space ownership, the requirement for course specific specialist space or simply the desire to create a separate identity for each faculty. The feeling of ‘you are now in the [engineering/law/business/etc] department’ is something students and staff will often say is important to them.

Bournemouth University is one university looking at this and trying to create the right balance between identity and utilisation, education and research, and quality of space. 

One of the new, state-of-the-art facilities we are designing with the university will bring together two of its most prestigious faculties – the Faculty of Media and Communication and the Faculty of Science and Technology – and the technical areas that each of them use. These two faculties are seen to have untapped synergies, and so there’s potentially a huge utilisation benefit to co-locating them.

The technical areas for the Media and Communication faculty include a sound stage, black box TV studio with full control galleries, ‘pebble mill’ type TV studio, screening room, edit suits including Foley and dub, dedicated green screen and computer animation labs. The Science and Technology areas include a full sound recording studio with multiple interconnecting studio facilities including Dolby, live rooms, isolation booths, control rooms and mix rooms, critical listening rooms and specialist computer labs.

The technical areas of both faculties have a clear leaning towards the media and creative industries. It is highly likely that these two faculties, and the students and staff using these technical areas, will have skills that are needed within the same industries. So creating a new building that brings them together has clear benefits not only for space utilisation, but for collaboration and innovation.

Spaces like this that bring people together, and provide higher levels of connectivity and interaction have been proven to improve people’s wellbeing. Staff however do not always see it that way, preferring their own, separate spaces. To help Bournemouth engage their staff in the idea of shared spaces, we used Wellbriefing, an innovative engagement tool that helps people understand and prioritise the aspects of the built environment that improve their health and wellbeing.

Tim McIntyre-Bhatty, deputy vice chancellor at Bournemouth University, said: “Using WellBriefing has taken us away from the basic dialogue we often have with staff around closed and open spaces. Instead we’re having a more mature dialogue around mixed use, flexible spaces for different purposes. Because of this I think we’ll end up with a building that provides flexible, more holistic environments for the different types of work that people do at different times of the day.”

By engaging with staff in a different way and helping them understand how co-location could actually improve their wellbeing, we’ve helped Bournemouth create a building that not only improves utilisation, but increases collaboration and innovation. By creating a stunning space where staff can bounce ideas off each other and work on joint projects, we’ll also hopefully create an environment that helps the university retain and attract the very best staff.