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image Project: Estrella Mountain Community College Ocotillo Hall

Estrella Mountain Community College Ocotillo Hall

Introduction : Team : School : Narratives : Costs : Images


Architect Narrative

The Ocotillo, a flowering Sonoraon Desert plant is noted for it’s compact base, long sweeping branches and vibrant red flowers that bloom with the monsoon’s rains. These unique attributes and its ability to thrive and grow in the harsh desert environment make it an appropriate metaphor for the classroom building. The project was conceived as organic learning spaces where students explore a variety of academic disciplines shaped by an architecture that transforms lives every day. This commitment is shared with a faculty initiative to nurture teaching and learning.

The project will lead the way creating a vision of the classrooms of tomorrow from both a visual and performance viewpoint. The campus is situated in western metropolitan Phoenix, and is a member of the Maricopa Community College District, the nation’s largest community college district. Expanding to keep pace with regional growth, the campus is challenged with serving a diverse student population—some tech-savvy, some juggling classes, families and jobs.

Composed of 22 classrooms, or ‘Learning Studios’, offices for faculty and many informal inside and outside learning spaces. The Learning Studios offered the opportunity to experiment with space—including color and light—furniture, and technology. From the beginning of design the learning studios were envisioned as active learning spaces designed to adapt easily to their users’ needs at any time.
Tools such as wall writing and projection surfaces are found throughout the spaces; mobile teaching stations; and wireless laptop computers to open up the desk spaces and sight lines. These and other amenities serve EMCC’s radical flexibility paradigm by supporting small-group dynamics and collaborative learning.

The project features corridors with expanded gathering areas, windows to the world, and a central outdoor ‘Open Air Rotunda’ with smaller courtyards. This outdoor rotunda acts as an organizing element for the classroom wings of the Hall, as well as acting as space for individual study between classes and for student — faculty dialogue outside of class. These spontaneous discussion areas have been coined ‘think stop’ spaces by the faculty. The building was designed to accommodate adaptable lighting, ready access to electrical power, and wireless technology. Attention was given to creating a stimulating space via a vibrant palette of desert colors, textures and finishes conducive to supporting an effective teaching and learning experience.

‘We follow three main principles in developing campus spaces: leverage of physical space; engagement of stakeholders; and the concept of ‘radical flexibility,’ explains the campus president. Radical Flexibility frees faculty and students to customize classroom space to meet their teaching and learning needs. ‘Today, you will not be very successful if you simply stand in front of a room and lecture from start to finish.’ Beyond the obvious motivation to improve the educational experience, the campus had a few added incentives. Results of a recent student focus group and survey on classroom design placed the use of space, aesthetics and moveable furniture at the top of the list of concerns. Most importantly the college wanted to set a different standard as it prepared to launch this construction project.

Learning Studios offer Radical Flexibility

Today’s college student has very different ideas about how and where learning takes place. As a result, traditional classrooms designed specifically for knowledge delivery no longer work. Recognizing this, This community college is committed to meet the changing needs and expectations of faculty and students through the design of creative and dynamic learning spaces.

The leadership at this school recognized the power an institution has in leveraging physical space, whether it is formal or informal, to promote engagement and advance teaching and learning. Over the past year, the school partnered with two corporate partners and created a major transformation of two classrooms into new, prototype learning spaces dubbed ‘Learning Studios’. From the inception of the project, leaders aimed to leverage physical space and create facility design priorities that reflected effective pedagogies for teaching and learning. The college engaged all stakeholders (faculty, students and staff) to obtain input on what specific elements created a dynamic learning space. The college held meetings, formed focus groups, and conducted surveys to discuss instructional pedagogy and delivery strategies. From this input emerged consensus for classroom design, media/technology, furniture, lighting, electrical access, wireless access, and included a concept known as radical flexibility. Radical flexibility is the desire to free faculty and students, so they have the ability to customize the learning environment to the teaching and learning pedagogy, delivery system and technology needs on demand. By allowing hands on manipulation of the actual physical learning environment, an increased sense of ownership in the learning process would take place.

With this input, the partners then examined and addressed all aspects of a learning environment including, furniture, technology, color and arrangement. College leaders set the tone during design discussions so that teaching and learning considerations always remained primary during the difficult planning stages. As a result, the college was able to create informal learning spaces within formal instructional settings that support small-group dynamics, peer review and collaborative learning. The completed ‘Learning Studios’ were then wrapped in captivating colors, textures and finishes and opened to faculty and learners in fall 2005.

Since the beginning of the ‘Learning Studio’ project, Estrella Mountain has been collecting and assessing feedback from faculty and learners. As a result, in January 2006, the college opened the project, a new classroom complex that includes twenty two (22) new ‘Learning Studios’, designed directly from the feedback and concepts of the prototypes.

With the opening of the project, college leadership and its partners have made a commitment to continue to examine, assess and learn more about how spatial relationships, ergonomic design and seamless access to technology can increase student engagement and success. Faculty and learners are continuing to visualize, play, experiment, test and asses these new Learning Studios’, as the Institution prepares to make significant investments in future capital projects.

Merit Award 2006



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