Tag Archives: spaces

Learning Space: Cooperative House Commercial Kitchen

Where is my space?

I am currently evaluating my house’s kitchen space as a learning environment for learning how to use the space in common. I want to look at basic organization (shelving, refrigerator space, oven condition) as well as the culture that is dictated in the kitchen as a learning space. As of now, there is very little scaffolded learning save from comments by staff and a kitchen tour at the beginning of the year. There is a lot of chaotic signage and the space alternates between looking really dirty, somewhat used, and pristine (following a clean). I want to observe the dynamics of learners in the space and how improving the physical space and the culture around it could change the environment.

Who are the stakeholders?

Stanford University owns the building and so are the main stakeholders in my project. I plan to email our building manager to begin the conversation of who I could speak to about design concerns in cooperative houses.

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Field Notes: Science and Engineering Quad

Author: Hsiaolin Hsieh

Event: Site visit to SEQ, Stanford University

Time and Date of event: 13:15-15:50, Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

Date of Record: Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

Tour guide: Luke Thivierge, Associate Director, Building Operations, Facilities Planning & Management

Related articles:

Huang Engineering Building- self guided tour

New science and engineering building quad planned for campus core

A brief intro to Y2E2


1. The physical layout of the space(s)

Connection” is the design principle of the Science and Engineering Quad. It is represented in the layout, the location, the interior design and the decoration of the buildings, as well as in the overall appearance of the Quad.

  • Layout:  the Quad is surrounded by 4 buildings, the Huang EngineeringCenter, the Hewlett and Packard Buildings, the Y2E2 Building, and the James and Anna Marie Spilker building, which are linked underground “by an 18-foot-deep basement of shared laboratory space that is sure to be in high demand because of its state-of-the-art equipment and controlled environment free of outside light, noise and vibrations” (Stanford News). The link between buildings presents a vision of interdisciplinary collaboration in science and engineering.
  • Location:  the Quad is built along an east-west axis which coincides with that of the Main Quad, and which bridges the central campus and the west side of the campus (School of Medicine). This orientation follows the original campus plan designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, and the overall appearance of the arcades and the quad, and the limestone tile façades and red tile roof, present a historical connection with the school as a whole.
  • Interior design and decoration:  inside the buildings of the Quad, there are exhibitions of the stories of individual people (prominent faculty and donors) and inventions that are associated with the schools connected with the Quad. These exhibitions highlight the intellectual heritage that connects current students and faculty with those of the past and contemporaries in industry today.

2. People who typically come to the space

Students, faculty and staff are the typical users in this space. In comparison with the other buildings dedicated to specialist graduate research, the Huang Engineering Building has been designed specifically for students activities. Its main entrance is on the second floor, and functions as a dining hall for students and faculty. It’s interesting to see that both the GSB and the SEQ put their “kitchens” in the most convenient and obvious places, and use them as the incentives to recruit students to learning — a powerful example of human-centered design!

Apart from the necessary human conveniences, there are also lots of conference rooms and informal social areas (the resting areas outside the labs, around the atria, and big, wide staircases).  Almost all of the conference rooms (as well as the classrooms) are built with glass rather than concrete walls, and the informal social areas are open, public, and equipped with write-on glass walls, whiteboards, and comfortable furniture.  They not only foreground the idea of  “together alone“, but also instantiate “transparency“, a liberation from enclosed property (of knowledge), and suggest an ideology of sharing.

3. Activities that happen in the space

In addition to formal classroom teaching and learning, a number of extra-curricular activities regularly take place in and around the Quad. Eating, experiments, and out-of-class discussion were all in evidence in these spaces, though we didn’t really get to see the classrooms where formal learning actually takes place.

According to my impression of the tour, and the emphasis placed on it by Luke, our guide, learning and research in the SEQ is centered around the sophisticated laboratory devices and equipment.  A great deal of informal learning (discussion and collaboration between peers and teachers), by contrast, is supported by an open, comfy space where there is furniture with an appropriate degree of comfort, and lots of write-on whiteboards/glass, and projectors. Much of the formal learning here seems to be technical in nature, and concentrated on lab technique, while informal learning is focused on communicating and engaging with ideas. It seems to me that this contrast is fostered and reinforced, perhaps quite consciously, by the conspicuously low-tech facilities in the informal spaces (no fancy interactive whiteboards here!) which foreground human and intellectual interaction.  A more prosaic explanation might be fear of theft, which, apparently has accounted for a lot of their relatively comfortable furniture!

Communication is an important motif in the SEQ. I found the background noise from group discussion and also from classrooms/conference rooms actually warmed up a space which might otherwise be a little harsh and impersonal. Human sounds soften and invigorate coldness of steel and uncarpeted concrete floors, and bring a natural cadence to a science and engineering environment.

My last reflection on our visit concerns Luke’s comment on sleeping. He mentioned more than once the importance of having appropriate furniture that increases productivity and discourages sleeping. However, sleeping is an important factor in effective learning. I am not sure if excluding it from learning space is necessarily the best solution for productivity. I certainly think this should be up for discussion, anyway.

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On spaces, pedagogies, and technologies

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CERAS Atrium

I chose to observe the CERAS atrium for my learning space.


What do learners do there?

This space serves many functions for different learners.  Some sit quietly at tables, often on their computers, reading or writing papers.  Others use the space to make phone calls or have skype conversations.  The space is also often used to host meetings, with a large number of people sitting around a table discussing.  Additionally, the space also is used to host functions, so people might be eating food or mingling with others.

What is the environment like?

The space is a massive open area, 5 stories tall, with offices and classrooms surrounding it on every level.  A tinted glass roof lets in some light, but it often masks the brightness of the outdoors.  The furniture varies from round tables with chairs surrounding, to smaller groups of chairs set up like living rooms or lounges.  All of this can also change depending on how the space is being used, so sometimes the setup is completely different.

The noise level can vary from a hushed silence to a dull roar, dependent again on what is happening in the space at any given time.  Sometimes there is a massive amount of activity and people, whereas early in the morning or late at night, the space can be nearly empty.

How does it help people learn?

It’s questionable whether the space helps people learn or not.  I find it very difficult to learn in the space when it’s too active, but others seem to thrive in that environment.  Perhaps the best attribute of the space is that it has various levels of activity to fit many people’s learning styles.  Unfortunately, this activity is consistent, and you never know exactly what state the space will be in when you’d like to use it.  That said, it does seem to facilitate connections well, as it is easy to run into someone unexpected in the space.  Although it may sound odd, I’m curious if the space was actually designed with learning as one of its goals…

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Native American Club House (Ashley)

Learning Space:  Native American Club House

Clubhouse NACC1

I elected to observe the Native American Cultural Center (NACC) during lunch time.  The NACC is located in the Old Union across from the Stanford Bookstore, and is one of four cultural centers located on campus.  The first place I visited upon my arrival to Stanford as a Freshman in 2001 was the NACC, it was my home for the next five years and now!

What is the environment like?

When I approached the NACC my eyes immediately fixated on a totem pole strategically positioned outside of the center.   The totem pole stood about 30ft. tall and was adorned with intricate designs, colors, and thought provoking imagery.  The feeling of spirituality and sense of community promptly entered my being as I walked through the NACC front door.  The atmosphere was open and inviting, with students lounging on couches, chatting, and laughing.  The walls were filled with colorful posters, Native American artwork, and symbols.  It was a relaxed, stress-free, and safe space.


What do learners do there?

The NACC has a community room, a computer room, a library, a kitchen, and administrative offices.  Learners go there to: 1) Study, 2) Read, 3) Write Papers, 4) Conduct Research on Native American Tribes & Issues, 5) Watch TV, 6) Listen to a Lecture, 5) Engage is Conversation, 6) Interact with/Solicit Advice from the Administrative Staff, 7) Stanford Powwow Planning & Implementation, 8) For Counseling Services, 9) To Eat Occasional Meals, and 10) Sometimes Sleep!

How does it help people learn?

The Native American Cultural Center helps American Indian students thrive academically, culturally and socially by providing a sense of community.  It also serves as a research facility for other students interested in learning more about American Indian tribes, customs, or ideology.

Nationally, American Indians make up only 1 percent of the undergraduate student body, up from 0.7 percent in 1976.  Today Stanford’s Native American student body stands at 3 percent.


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Bass Library (Su)

The place:

The photos above are of Bass Library (at the GSB) and its various study rooms / computer clusters.  Even though this is the main GSB library, I have never enjoyed studying there beyond when it makes sense to do so (i.e. between class).  I have never sought out this learning environment in off-hours which is interesting to me.
What do learners do there?
Learners generally do one of two things there: (1) they are in the study rooms working on team projects or (2) they are working individually at the computer clusters.  There are also smaller areas for just sitting and reading case studies, but the space for this is fairly limited compared to the study rooms and computer clusters.  Learners generally use the space during the day and the library becomes fairly empty in the evenings.  The Bass Library is also used for on-campus interviews, so interspersed with the learners, you often have people walking around in suits waiting for interviews.
What is the environment like?
The environment is very atypical of a library.  There are no books in Bass (all resources are electronic) so there are no shelves or stacks of books and reference materials.  The noise level is greater than a typical library since people are generally there for short periods of time (between class) so there’s a lot of shuffling as people unpack / pack up and walk in or out of the library.  Many learners use this space for team projects, so there is naturally some talking as groups of people walk in together before they disappear into the quiet of a study room.  During recruiting season especially, the environment feels very corporate because of the large numbers of people in suits and the tense environment as groups of dressed-up recruiters and recruitees wait for their interview.  Even during non-recruiting season, there is a “corporate” rather than “academic” feel to the library because of the sophisticated technology in each of the study rooms and the existence of professional work-setups such as the Bloomberg pit or the trading simulation room.
How does it help people learn?
I think the technology in the study rooms helps groups learn together by making team-work very efficient.  For instance, there are conference call systems in case several people need to be on the phone at once.  There are projectors that allow multiple people to project their laptops onto a large screen.  The technology in the computer clusters (i.e. access to various databases and Bloomberg) allow for learning because there are a lot of resources that can be accessed from each terminal.  However, beyond using the library for group meetings or a place to rest/get some quick work done between class, I’ve not seen people use the library much in off-hours when people are bustling about between class.  Personally, I’ve never sought out Bass as an “inspiring” learning environment if I wanted to hunker down and read a bunch of materials or write a research paper.  Something about the lack of books and the corporate environment makes it an uninspiring work environment, and I find myself preferring the law library or education library for more thoughtful, introspective learning.

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Learning to care about your food (Whitney)

When you walk into the bright, open, bustling space of the Arbuckle Dining Pavilion, the first thing you’re likely to feel is overwhelmed. Like most dining halls, this one is hectic with chatter and the heady mix of food smells; but the layout of Arbuckle is decidedly non-linear, so that if you’re standing at its threshold for the first time, you might not know what you’re expected to do. So the first thing Arbuckle has to teach you to do is to find your way around.

If you’re lucky enough to notice the large signage near the left entrance, you can read through the offerings available at each station, demystifying the process a bit. However, if you come in through the right, you’re on your own. The room is high-ceilinged, and all along the top of its melon-colored walls are puzzling names: Social Networking, Action Items, Foreign Exchange. Titles like “Hot Commodities” and “Market Mix” make a little more sense in the dining-hall context, but it’s still hard to know what to make of this place without doing some wandering around. Maybe other diners are able to take more decisive action, but if Arbuckle has taught me anything, it’s that no matter how many times I go, I should not choose my meal without doing a long and contemplative lap of the perimeter. You might think the Spanish chorizo and Oaxacan cheese quiche sounds like the way to go, but that’s only because you haven’t gotten to the coffee-encrusted short ribs yet.

Tucked into each food station are helpful navigation hints (e.g. the salad bar now includes a sign at one end with a large arrow that says “Start Here”). But as you’re hunting for these directional cues, you might start picking up a different message. Scanning the wall prints that depict humble farmers and colorful marketplaces, you’ll find definitions of terms like “locavore” and “dry farming.” And that’s maybe when you realize that the masterminds behind Arbuckle (i.e., Bon Appetit dining services) want to feed you more than just food–they want to feed to you an agenda.

Every food item served at Arbuckle is awarded one or more color-coded seals, signifying that item’s moral and/or nutritional virtues. A salad from the Market Mix station might be labeled “Farm to Fork,” meaning that its ingredients are seasonal and from a nearby farmer, or a stir fry from Foreign Exchange might get the “In Balance” seal for meeting the latest USDA guidelines. Other designations include Organic, Vegetarian, Vegan, and Seafood Watch (for meeting the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s guidelines for sustainability). The color code is unpacked on table tents scattered across the surfaces of the dining area, which also announce the nutrition topic of the month and, for the last week in March, Farmworker Awareness Week. URLs are listed for eager diners who want further information.

It’s conceivable that you could make it out of an Arbuckle dining experience without ever absorbing any of its hormone-free, no-antibiotic, low-carbon, fresh, local propaganda. You could drop in for a meal, clean your plate, and thereby bypass the waste system designed to encourage composting and recycling over throwing anything away. But it’s hard to leave without thinking to yourself, “Man, that was–by a long shot–the tastiest meal I’ve had on campus, and yeah, it was a dollar or two more expensive, but I should come back sometime.”

And that’s how Arbuckle starts to teach you to care about your food.

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Learning Space: A public fountain

a fountain on campus

This is the fountain between the Green Library and the Main Quad. The picture was taken on Wednesday afternoon, and the observation was done between 14:00 and 15:30. During the observation period, about 8 people (3 women and 5 men) came and sat around the fountain for a while (around 30 minutes or so on average), and then left.

What do Learners do there?

Generally speaking, learners did whatever suited their own plans at the fountain.

First a young girl sat reading, and after she left, another girl, wearing sunglasses on the top of her head, came and sat in the same place and started using her laptop.  A guy sat down a little distance from her and read a newspaper. He was wearing sunglasses and headphones. Another guy brought a book with him and sat on the opposite side from them (under the trees, in the shade). He took his shoes off and started to read a novel.  A third guy came and sat not too far from the guy reading the novel.  He looked around, and wrote (or possibly sketched) something in his notebook.  The guy with newspaper left, while a fourth guy came and sat between the two guys in the shade. He used his laptop, and coughed from time to time, loudly.  The girl with the sunglasses on her head left.  The bright side of the fountain was empty. The second guy put his shoes on and left with his novel, and then a third girl arrived and took his seat. She was also using her laptop. Later on, the coughing guy left too, and his seat was occupied by the fifth guy.  He took his shoes off too, and he was meditating with his hands folded and resting on his knees (legs crossed).

What is the environment like?

It is an open space where there are always people around, including students, faculty and staff, and visitors (especially tourists), who sometimes walk through/past it, take pictures with/around it, or they chat in the area. The fountain is big, and the water never stops. Actually, the sound of the water is so loud that you cannot really hear clearly what people walking by are talking about.

Two big stone benches surround the fountain. There are names on the stone. One side of the benches has shades from trees, and the other side is more exposed to the sunshine. It was a lovely afternoon. The sun was shining, and a light breeze was blowing. Sometimes, a little lady bug or an insect surprises the learner by appearing on the pages of their books, and sometimes the ringing bell reminds them to leave for something or somewhere.

How does it help people learn?

It’s an informal and open space, which invites everyone to come and go, do whatever they like.  The informality creates an absence of expectation which allows creativity and relaxed performance.

The sound of flowing water, the sunshine, and the breeze combined to provide a pleasant and natural setting which was very inviting, and the sound of water in particular actually provides a kind of white noise that helps people to concentrate and be productive.

The stone bench is so hard that one cannot really sit there for long; this likely increases the flow of people coming and leaving the space, but this may not be ideal for a learning environment.

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Observe a learning space

Before class on Thursday, go to some space on campus where people learn. Observe, and if possible/appropriate, take pictures and talk to learners. Answer the following questions on a blog post:

What do learners do there?

What is the environment like?

How does it help people learn?

(Add photos if you can.)

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Connecting Thought and Environment

A favorite quote from Keith Basso’s (1997) Wisdom Sits in Places: “Incorporating places and their meanings into a compact model of mental and social development, [one theory of wisdom] proposes that the most estimable qualities of human minds – keen and unhurried reasoning, resistance to fear and anxiety, and suppression of emotions born of hostility and pride – come into being through extended reflections on symbolic dimensions of the physical environment.” (pg. 85)

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