Creating Spaces Without Walls

Amy Dishman, Jackie Bacon

Furniture plays a key role in any space. It defines areas, enhances the feel of a room, and can inhibit or promote a room’s function.

Nebraska Center for Advanced Professional Studies at Sandy Creek is unique in its design in that rather than being defined by walls, it is defined by the absence of them. The only fully enclosed classrooms are a few science and lab spaces. For this reason thoughtful furniture selection was essential to help define open spaces and create areas for activity. In order to help define and communicate intent, we created different space typologies:

  • Launch Pad: Tiered seating with a tall table and stools behind, facing a monitor, for instruction before students break away into project-focused work.
  • A Huddle: Groupings of tables and chairs for small group work or class size instruction.
  • Think Tank: Lounge-like seating for individual focused work, to solve complex problems or perform research.
  • Forum: Space to discuss, debate, gather, and understand through storytelling and audible study.
  • Studio: Create, explore, and invent through hands-on learning.
  • Lab: Experiment through hands-on exploration
  • Shark Tank: An area to present work and ideas while receiving constructive feedback
  • Base Camp: A hub providing supplies, storage, communications, and space for respite
  • Fish Tank: an area to flesh out ideas in a focused semi-enclosed space

Soft furnishings throughout help in acoustical control, while mobile furnishings mean you can move your seat to better see, hear, and engage with the content and peers. We used acoustical baffles wherever we could to keep the open space’s acoustics manageable, and used glare-reducing whiteboards and screens to make sure students can see presented content.    

Diffuse daylight floods the school. We know from numerous studies how important daylight and circadian rhythms are to student performance. Daylight exposure has direct connections to cognitive and decision-making functions, resulting in higher test scores, lower incidences of disruptive behavior, and happier and more productive students and faculty.

While faculty may need time to adjust, students are already moving intuitively through their new space. Movement helps with cognition and focus by pumping blood to the brain, an important additive to the learning environment. At Nebraska CAPS at Sandy Creek, students are sitting, standing, laying on furniture, lounging, and moving themselves and the furniture around frequently – all while being completely engaged in their work. In fact, the design of this space eliminates a student being able to “hide in the back” of the classroom. Visibility and transparency play key roles in this unique atmosphere.

While students and teachers have been in the space for a few months, early reports indicate that these new furnishings and learning spaces are already a success. Stay tuned in the coming months as we continue to look at what a difference space can make in a student’s educational journey.

Visit the school’s website for more information on the facility, the business partners, and college credit opportunities.