The new Learning Commons at York University in Toronto transforms 17,000 square feet of the university’s 40-year old, central library into a nucleus for academic support services and social learning. It proclaims to internet-generation students that libraries need not be quiet, stuffy or uninviting. Library users are first greeted by the ‘Hub’ where a red-hot information kiosk has a swirling crown of digital announcements. There, students can seek help and book time with academic support specialists. Counseling and workshops take place in pods that are a creative hybrid between furniture and architecture, comfortably establishing visually and acoustically private spaces. Everything is flexible for multi uses: lightweight furniture can be easily rearranged; video monitor walls can be signage, presentation boards, or artistic media; the pods are suited to one-on-one or group gatherings and their shifting purpose can be indicated by the monitors or the shifting colors of LED lights overhead.
Highly visible from main circulation paths on the floor, a ‘light box threshold’ signals the ‘Collaboratory’ space. The Collaboratory instigates noise, work, peer interaction—and reading. Since the students had a habit of studying in groups on the floor, the architects developed a playful landscape of circular steps called the ‘Hill’ that sets the informal, collaborative tone of the room. The room has plenty of plugs for power and lightweight furniture for endless reconfiguration. Hanging above the built-in work booths, the light boxes lower the ceiling height, creating a more intimate area. Floor-to-ceiling windows invite natural daylight and sweeping views. These are adorned with logos and a continuous, horizontal light-strip to project the Learning Commons brand to the surrounding campus.
The “Salon” is a quiet reading area with red armchairs, nestled in the stacks between two enormous nail-relief landscapes that anoint the act of reading with pride and grandeur. This serves as a more traditional low noise level Library space. The Library and University curated adaptable art walls give the space distinctiveness and instill a sense home. With this project, the University is making a powerful commitment to its students. Completed at a budget of $1.9 million, the investment reinvents and reinvigorates the library. It establishes the Learning Commons as a major public space on campus and it embodies York University’s new pedagogical shift from teacher-centered to social learning.