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Wall-E: Reconfigurable Walls at Stanford Make Each Class the Perfect Size
[Photos by Noah Webb]

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