In Allendale, Michigan, a few kilometres away from Grand Rapids, the new Mary Idema Pew Library at the Grand Valley State University represents innovation, design and renewal: all themes close to the heart of Interface. This 65 million dollar building is the campus’s largest and most expensive, and replaced a smaller library that was built 46 years ago when “a computer filled a room instead of a pocket”.
With seating for 1500 students, shelf space for 150,000 books, an 80-seat auditorium and 30 meeting rooms for group projects, the space represents a re-envisioning of what a library means to a university student, while incorporating key design features that could be said to be inspired by the principles of Biophilia, humanity’s instinctive attraction to nature and the feelings of happiness and comfort that this connection evokes.
In a huge building flooded with light, the carpet tiles used have an organic, natural feel and look, as if students are walking on a forest floor or a riverbank with stones or red earth underneath. Many of the walls in the building use large tiles of natural material or stone stucco, creating an affinity to the natural world. Private study areas are like cocoons or a nature hide-away to shelter from noise and activity. These contrast with lively areas for group activity and learning. Conceptually, there is something organic and natural about the way the library’s space can be adapted to multiple activities, use and ambience, much like nature itself.
For this grand achievement, the university worked with the furniture manufacturer, Steelcase, to really understand what a 21st century library should be. They studied student behaviours: their interactions, postures and rhythm and found out a lot what they didn’t know. Students move seamlessly between time alone and high activity, and between academic and social life, where boundaries are no longer as ‘crisp’. So, the library needed to move from an idea of enforced quiet and physical books to embrace a new style of interactive learning, no longer just a reading and storage site but preparation for how a new generation works and lives. ‘It wasn’t even about literature’ said Lee Van Orsdel, the dean of university libraries. Instead, the university wanted to create a compelling and comfortable environment that presented students with infinite options to engage and learn, with a rhythm that matched different parts of the day.
The result is that students have found a great place to socialize with others and be motivated by them, with a great atmosphere that supports informal learning. It is a place that serves both as a safe and quiet place to study as well as one for collaboration on group work, where students can easily access both academic and computing resources. It’s an “enriched environment where students can continue the work started in the classroom and add a dimension to learning that a classroom doesn’t always offer,” said Van Orsdel. For the innovation shown in renewing the concept of a contemporary library, and for using design to achieve social and learning objectives, we say ‘Bravo’. Did your university library match up?