Designing for a school is also designing for the future of education. With the recent multiplication of teaching channels, learning now goes far beyond the classroom and the library. It has become a total experience that requires flexible, welcoming spaces adapted to all forms of engagement. This was Atelier Nuno Architects ambition for the 7,000-square-foot Learning Commons on the campus of HKU’s Medical School. They wanted to offer more possibilities outside the typical teaching setting and create space for interaction and exchange, vital components of any successful learning environment.
University campuses are changing rapidly, but spaces such as classrooms, lecture theaters, and tutorial rooms are still very much compartmentalized to serve specific functions. While preserving these essential uses, the studio created a large open space free from any visual barrier, where students can study, gather, meet, and relax. Inspired by the fluidity of organic forms, Atelier Nuno imagined a learning playground, fun and colorful, for future doctors.
Rather than prescriptive functions, a spectrum of atmospheres articulates the space, from quiet and private to collective and active. The varying curved geometry of the forty-seat table accommodates individual study, one-on-one interactions, and group work under the light of seven white globes. The curving, double-sided sofa in deep blue provides comfortable and flexible seating throughout the commons. Various openings create islands of intimate enclosures, while a continuous glass ribbon of warm light wraps around the archipelago.
Parallel to the sofa, four combinable glazed meeting rooms, a pantry, and a locker area blend together into a fluid peach-colored zone. More than nine hundred dimmable white globes populate the visually continuous ceiling, charting students’ interactions as lighting varies over the course of the day.
The top of a three-stepped wooden mount leads to an elevated panoramic viewpoint. Shaped like a bean, the steps provide a setting for small presentations and talks. The transparent lecture theater seats more than seventy people in organic clusters of chairs distributed across a soft green carpet that gently slopes upward, allowing students to lie down, relax, and gather informally.
Following the curvature of the building, the outer walls are cladded with stainless-steel panels which reflect the layers, colors, and lights of the learning commons, ultimately blurring the boundary of the space. Like a playground, the interstitial circulation flows unify these different spaces into a dynamic learning environment that encourages exploration, interaction, and discovery.
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Photography by Edmon Leong