Burwell Deakins Architects have lead the development of master plans, learning environments and higher education estate strategies and we have become recognised thought leaders in learning and teaching environments. With this wealth of experience designing higher education buildings across a diverse range of universities, we identified a consistent issue with the disconnect between contemporary learning and traditional lecture theatres. During this time we became expert in understanding how learning styles have evolved over time with increased diversity of student intake, and understanding how the environments for which we design needs to accommodate these different styles of learning.
In 2011, we were appointed by Loughborough University as Lead Consultant and Architect to design Loughborough Design School. Burwell Deakins worked with Tony Hodgson (Dean of Loughborough Design School) and Caroline Pepper (Learning Environments Manager) to develop a lecture theatre format that allows this didactic / collaborative learning format. Inspired by the repetitive yet informal geometry of the Giant Causeway, a series of repeat bench units with shared tables snake across the auditorium. This maximises sightlines whilst allowing interchange between didactic an group learning formats without the reorganization of either furniture or student, whilst allowing teaching staff to move between the tables and talk directly to groups of students during collaborative learning periods. We worked with Race Furniture and Jam Tree to identify a pragmatic resolution to overcome the continuing disconnect between contemporary and traditional lecture theatre pedagogies. Reinterpretating traditional bench seating, we created Connect seating, a lecture theatre seating solution that encourages both didactic and collaborative learning. The project went on to win numerous awards, including RIBA East Midlands Building of the Year and FX International Design Award for Workplace Seating.
Although Connect was founded at Loughborough Design School, we have since used the same concept across various universities including the award winning Exchange for Falmouth University and University of Exeter, The David Kier Hub at Queens University Belfast and we are currently on site at Leeds University incorporating Connect seating into the refurbishment of lecture theatres across the campus including the iconic Grade II listed Roger Stevens building.