Thursday, July 9, 2009

A creative tension?

One of the comments at the end of UAL's Making Space conference concerned an 'elephant in the room' - the tensions between the desires and needs of art and design tutors/students and the realities of costs and scarce resources.

This tension reveals itself in many ways; in the tendency for estates managers and academics to distrust each other; in the perpetual gap between perceptions that there is never enough space (tutors) and that - at around 20- 25% - occupancy rates are too low (estates); in the problems of rooms being booked and then not used; and in arguments over dedicated spaces for courses, or one-studio space-per-student, or the amount and type of academic offices.

I joined a very interesting workshop run by Sian Kilner, who has been centrally involved in the new Space Management Group (SMG) guidance on planning affordable - and sustainable educational buildings. She has been exploring methods beyond simple space-per-student norms which aim instead to make more transparent and open for debate the intersecting effects of types of space, timetabling, activities and student numbers on costs.

We ended up having a discussion about problems of averages and peakloads. For me, educational courses are more like the bus system than a standard office - there are inherently peaks and troughs through the semester cycle, particularly in the art and design subjects. Another delegate said we have to think about studio space as a service, as something that needs to be offered even if it is not used all the time. (This is much better explained by Han herself on her blog http://evocativethings.blogspot.com/.) I came away thinking that if art and design tutors want to argue their case better, we have to look at methods for space planning which are more complex (that is, can better model the patterns through the academic cycle), but of course not so complex that they are ineffective predictors; and we have to be able to describe more precisely the space/time patterns of learning in art and design in HE to estates and facilities managers.

Image from installation in courtyard, Chelsea College of Art and Design, UAL. Millbank, London

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