The issue of flexibility

What is most striking throughout this course is how pedagogical use of a space is predetermined by its design. Flexible and agile spaces seem to be the catch phrase in my readings. Yet they resonate. There is a need to have spaces and furnishings that are mobile and which can be quickly and easily formed and reformed by the users depending on need and purpose. Designing spaces for learning, after all, needs to accommodate for both current and evolving pedagogies and to be ‘future-proofed’ – to allow space can be re-allocated and reconfigured (JISC, 2006, 7). It is timely too, that Blyth (2012, 264) reminds  us that design is really as much about problem seeking and solving in its broadest sense, and not purely about aesthetics, though that too is one component.

As part of my considerations as to how we can ‘future proof’ the Central Library, I have arranged for site visits of two international schools and their libraries next week to see how their spaces help inspire creativity and shape learning, and to discuss the processes they undertook in the design of their libraries.  As Hunter (2006, 64) states “Seeing innovative learning spaces being used, especially in libraries, at first hand and meeting with staff and students to discuss their experiences is invaluable”.

In Module 6.5, MacIntosh (2015) asks us to observe and posed these questions:

  • Do you see all the spaces represented, and are some more prevalent than others?
  • Does the learning environment reflect teaching and learning which one might associate with being ‘traditional’?
  • Is there evidence of space changing people’s practice, or of a specific type of space being ignored or reshaped by its users to suite their former (traditional) practices?
  • Is there any evidence otherwise traditional learning spaces being remodelled informally by teachers and learners, through the use of furniture, lighting or objects, to create a new use for the space? Is there evidence of their ‘agility’?

Interestingly, within the start of my upcoming assignment I have acknowledged how the Central Library is very much a ‘traditional’ library – designed with greater intent toward the built environment rather than perhaps the more significant focus on built pedagogy. Observations have been made in earlier blog posts, especially in relation to small changes, and how students informally re-purpose areas of the library to meet their needs. However, I would not go as far as to admit the library achieves a sense of agility and flexibility.

Both Blyth (2012, 264) and MacIntosh (2014) acknowledge the issue of ‘flexibility’ and how it is a loaded word. One of the criteria for flexibility is that buildings should enable change. Teaching, pedagogy and learning change over time, and the building needs to respond to these changes.

Blyth continues to that we need to recognize the importance of using different sizes of space, so that the flexibility lies in the provision of variation rather than just one big area that can be subdivided (2012, 267). Which also brings me to the importance of creating nooks and corners within larger open spaces (Davies, 2015, 11). When we observe students they re-purpose these spaces themselves. It is really a matter of following our student’s space seeking behaviours and creating the signposts and providing the furnishings to make them into a the comfortable and collaborative spaces that they are being used for.


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Blyth, A. (2012). Design of education, Pan European Networks: Government 04. November  2012. Retrieved from:

Hunter, B. (2006). The espaces study: designing, developing and managing learning spaces for effective learning. New Review of Academic Librarianship, 12(2), 61-81. DOI:10.1080/13614530701330398

JISC (2006, March 16). Designing learning spaces. Retrieved from:

Whisken, A. (2012). Library learning spaces: one school library’s initial design brief. Synergy. 10(2). Victoria:SLAV. Retrieved from: