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Wall-E: Reconfigurable Walls at Stanford Make Each Class the Perfect Size

Can classroom design influence the quality of learning? Anybody who's sat in the back row of a big lecture hall with empty seats up front can tell you it's a perfect setup for disengagement—or for updating your Facebook page.

It's a problem central to space design at the new Stanford building, and one that planners solved with a massively reconfigurable wall system that lets instructors create the perfectly sized space for each class.

The school's second floor is, essentially, one large room, framed by a truss system that lets planners design a series of sliders, attached with a gizmo they call a "taco" to a beam-mounted C-channel. That allows teams to create instant studios, of the exact dimensions appropriate to the day's activities. Need a cozy nook? Done! A wide-open expanse of space? Not a problem.

Additional support is provided by spring-loaded posts, which let classes put wall studs wherever they want.

"The system allows a modal shift between intimate and open," says Scott Witthoft, co-director with Scott Doorley of the school's Environments Collaborative, which designed the arrangement along with Dave Shipmen of Steelcase.

Check out the taco itself: it's subtly branded with an abstracted "d" cutout as an extra, usable hole. That's also part of the ethos, to expose how things are put together. That ranges from a support wall that exposes the masonry, brick, and stucco of the building's previous lives to the edges on the tables that show their composition.

The dschool's DNA is, after all, engineering, so the feeling that it's all like something out of David Macauley's "The Way Things Work" is no accident.

Read more about Stanford's new building

[Photos by Noah Webb]

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  • Alex Blumentals

    Some time has elapsed since this writing... it would be interesting to hear stories about outcomes, discoveries since...

    It is a very inspiring idea, and it fits in well with cognitive processes

  • scott witthoft

    Excellent point about acoustics impacting the experience in
    learning space for both students and teachers! This has been
    a major consideration that has surfaced in prototyping teaching
    spaces even in the earliest locations. The noise from
    not only people, but also building infrastructure has a huge
    impact on the collective experience.

    The teaching studio configuration in the new has built
    on the results of numerous iterations such that now each studio
    can be acoustically isolated from other teaching studios, while the
    sliders + tacos + other connectors can create micro/macro partitions
    within each studio. By contrast, we also created a large open studio that
    can be partitioned but is intentionally not acoustically isolated--in order to
    utilize the ambient "energy" to create a lively workspace.

    The range of activities in classes is highly variable on
    an hour-to-hour basis. As a result, even now, we continue to explore
    ways to intentionally consider the effects of separation in terms of acoustic isolation,
    as well as visual isolation (transparent/translucent/opaque partitioning),
    for creating use-case-based environments.

  • Kursty Groves

    Flexibility is one of the keys to a creative space. It's fantastic to see this series of reports on the 'uber' innovations space! More examples of similar spaces from large-name companies can be found in the book: 'I Wish I Worked There! a few that pop to mind include Sony Design's LA studio which has similar flexible walls, P&G's 'the clay street project', where custom-made walls on wheels create vertical ideas-posting real estate and support team break-out spaces. check it out! http://www.iwishiworkedthere.c...

  • Fabian Geyrhalter

    I wonder if this interesting solution will make the 'class rooms' impossible to teach in though because of the acoustics created without having real rooms. Would be interesting to hear feedback from faculty and students as I imagine it to be quite a noisy environment.
    Geyrhalter Design |