Jul 12, 2019

2019 EDspaces Winning Classroom Design – A Behind the Scenes Interview with Stephen Gower, Demco Design Supervisor

First in a 6 part series featuring the winners of the EDspaces 2019 Classroom Design Competition. 

EDspaces learning environments serve as vehicles for classroom experimentation, with sessions taking place in classrooms designed by top architects, designers, and space planners. This gives attendees first-hand experience of modern approaches to learning through innovation in planning, design, and products and are a unique extension of learning for participants. Learn more at http://www.ed-spaces.com/education/classrooms/index.cfm

Classroom Name: Cultivate. Transform. Flourish.

Design Team: Demco, Inc. and Plunkett Raysich Architects, LLP                     

Vendor partners: ArtLine LTD, Community, Connectrac, Freshcoast, Forbo Flooring Systems, Interface, MooreCo, Muzo, Nora Systems, Professional Audio Designs, Inc., Smith System, Whitney Brothers

What was your concept in designing this classroom?
Using biophilic-inspired design, our classroom offers a rich integration of nature throughout the learning environment. The room is organized into three distinct zones: the forest edge, the clearing, and the glen. Entering the room through the forest edge, guests will find a zone of soft seating elements, tactile tables, and interactive display boards, along with living walls of green plants complemented by a natural imagery backdrop. This multisensory space opens to the clearing at the center of the room, where a variety of flexible seating, work surfaces, and media tools offer the ability to adapt the space for individual, small-group, and large-group learning. Integrated power throughout supports learners’ technology needs.

The edge of the glen on the far side of the room features larger tables and a private group setting for students to engage away from the active learning flow in the center of the room. Materials throughout the space have been carefully chosen to support focus, learning, and well-being by mimicking natural environments and making connections to our natural world.

What role does technology play in the space?
Technology is integral to the learning environment within our classroom. Multiple display screens support the variety of different learning modalities and different group sizes. Innovative screen technology allows for mirroring of presenter information, as well as sharing of work by smaller collaborative groups. Presenters will have the ability to select their presentation location and organize the room to fit their presentation style. An innovative, active acoustical system driven by a series of concealed speakers further supports the flexibility of presentation within the classroom. Digital amplification and sound support allow for customized tuning of the space. 

How does the design and technology plan encourage attendee interaction?
The classroom is organized into three distinct zones that create multiple organic spaces. These spaces encourage interaction for small- and large-group learning by using adaptable, mobile, and reconfigurable seating, work surfaces, and media tools. Users can quickly and easily rearrange for spontaneous collaboration and large-group learning. Learning zones are supported with a Connectrac underfloor power system that provides power throughout the space, with mobile Powerballs further distributing power at the user level. Digital content is shared through one primary monitor and additional smaller monitors, promoting digital interaction and visual collaboration for different group sizes.

How does the choice of furniture impact the space?
The variety of seating and work surfaces throughout offers users a choice to work where they learn best and provides the flexibility to accommodate different sized groups. Our seating solutions include organic Beach Stones and low-level Indie lounge platforms with rocking seats that promote informal collaboration. Height-adjustable Hierarchy Grow Stools are complemented with Bebop and Totem upholstered stools that promote movement, mobility, and student choice. Hierarchy Enroll Tablet Chairs act as satellite elements that students can move freely through the space during the day. Playful Planner Studio Benches pair with Studio Tables and create robust spaces for small-group making and collaboration. Connect Lounge Seating combines with Mix Stools to offer tiered seating heights, which promote different ways of working and assist with sight lines across the classroom.

What do the flooring choices say about your classroom?
Our flooring selections revolved around choosing products and companies that are eco-friendly. Interface has long been a leader in sustainable products and biophilic designs, and their Moss Carpet was the inspiration for the color palette. From there we turned to Nora rubber and Forbo linoleum for the same reasons. These conscientious companies produce products that are made in a resourceful way and can be recycled at the end of their useful life. All of these products are also quality commercial materials that are easy to maintain and do not require waxing or harsh chemicals for cleaning. The floor pattern was developed from the organic nature of the Moss Carpet and created organically around the furniture zones. Functionally, the soft surface was placed in the quiet learning zone and the hard surfaces were placed in the play and create zones.

How will this space work for presenters?
Our room setup will allow for quick changeover of speakers. Technology, while flexible and innovative, will support standard digital interface protocols. The primary presentation area (where the largest digital display will be) will have two portable podiums for presenters to utilize as needed. As the furniture in the room is mobile, each speaker has the ability to organize the room as he or she chooses.

What do you see as the largest benefit of being chosen as a design team winner?
We are honored to be chosen as a design team winner. Creating this biophilic classroom provided another opportunity for Demco and Plunkett Raysich Architects to collaborate and to illustrate that learners can benefit from educational environments that take a holistic approach to learning. Along with showcasing for educators what’s possible inside their spaces, our hope is that we also inspire them to feel confident that their learning environments can support modern teaching methods while being flexible enough to change and adapt to the future of education.  

Stephen Gower leads Demco’s design services team. He is an experienced furniture, product, and interior designer with a background in designing educational products and impactful educational interiors. Stephen has 20 years of design experience, including five years of international experience at Demco Interiors UK in England.

Stephen holds a Bachelor of Arts, with honors, in furniture design from Brunel University in High Wycombe, England. His past awards include the 2017 EDspaces Classroom Design Winner, awarded for “unique spaces designed by leading architects and designers in the field and outfitted with the latest innovations that make learning spaces come to life.”

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