Paul is the Vice Principal for Innovation and Regional Affairs. He was Dean of Science during the commissioning of the building. His vision was to create an engineering department which is very focused on design and creativity.
Paul, tell us about this building.
This building has been designed to foster an atmosphere of creativity. The ability to allow students to think is one of the key things. The building has a large number of different meeting areas where students get together quite naturally to discuss their ideas. And we’ve got rooms that allow a design process to flow from conceptual ideas; the creative thinking room moves into the project lab and then into the fabrication lab.
What impact has the building had on the department?
Well, the building is innovative and controversial in an academic context. We’ve plumped for an open plan office structure because it encourages our academics to work together as a team. Team-working is harder if you put yourself in your little box – you don’t have that instant contact with your colleagues. This building allows people to interact all the time. Staff are always coming up with ideas now – whether it’s for research, business opportunities or ways to change their courses.
And what about privacy?
There’s always a suitable space for people to squirrel themselves away if they need to focus. Because of the building’s design, we get all the benefits of open plan working but we’re not getting any of the drawbacks. It’s working very well and it’s a great example for the university to follow in the future.
And have students benefitted from the open plan layout?
There’s a lot of opportunity for interactions between the academics and the students, in both a formal and informal context. Normally, staff have certain hours when they are available to meet with students. But here, students can just wave, disappear for a quick meeting and solve an issue straight away.
From the breakout spaces, you can see straight into the labs. What effect has this had?
We’ve got large windows into the labs so everybody can see what’s going on. When we observed other buildings, often activities were hidden behind solid walls. Where you see what’s going on, it’s exciting and you feel part of it.
Is there a sense of community developing here?
Yes. We want an engineering building where every type of person feels comfortable – then we’ll get the best out of them! We designed the building to make it more accessible. When you’ve got students who work crazy hours, one of the key things is to make it open and have that feeling of safety. Different people feel comfortable in different ways, so being able to cater for people as much as you can is good.