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Deerfield Academy’s Innovation Space in Action - Five Questions for Architect Peter Reiss and Interior Designer Katie Mavrides

09.30.16 / Peter Reiss, AIA, LEED AP and Katie Mavrides, IIDA

Earlier this year, Deerfield Academy opened the doors of its newly-renovated Boyden Library. Among the creative new uses of former storage and book stack areas is an active lower level with a new Innovation Space. Deerfield and ARC worked together to design this new and exciting multipurpose space, which brings collaboration and hands-on fabricating to the traditional learning environment. Architect and Project Manager Peter Reiss, AIA, LEED AP, describes what happens after all the planning is done and students and faculty together learn how to utilize their new space.

Q: What is the Innovation Space?

Peter Reiss: A central element of the design idea is to develop new collaboration and creativity opportunities for group and project-based learning, student-faculty interaction, and flexible spaces for work, study, discussion, innovation, and “ideation.” The Library has many newly created spaces for digital-based learning, interdisciplinary interactions, and varied environments for study, but the Innovation Space itself is unique. It is a large, flexible, and open area in the lower level of the Library – created for students to learn through experimentation, light prototyping, and hands on work. The space is outfitted with movable furniture, ample storage space, and folding glass doors to provide a flexible and adaptable area for learning without a fixed physical boundary or predetermined limit on its uses. 

Q: Who gets to use the space?

Katie Mavrides: Deerfield welcomes all kinds of uses for the Innovation Space, and the response in the first six months of use is enthusiastic. So far, the space has hosted two classes – “Design of Everyday Things” and “Design for Human Impact” – and the hope is that more classes will make their home here in the future. As we’ve seen at other schools, when students and faculty get a taste of the energy in a new environment like this, it becomes contagious. At Deerfield, the space is used consistently for class projects in Physics, Geometry, Algebra, and English.  Deerfield has appointed a Dean to provide governance to the space and help define a system for scheduling and overall operations, but part of the guiding goal is to keep the space open and available for a wide variety of uses – including those still to be developed in the future. 

Q: How are the different class uses decided?

Katie Mavrides: Since a specific curriculum was not predefined, the design team included large, folding glass doors to open up the space and have the classroom spill out to the adjacent open study area. The space is never set up exactly the same each time you visit. Each class tailors it to their specific needs. Tables and chairs can move easily and power supply is readily available in various locations.  Recently three of Deerfield’s Physics classes built mouse trap cars in the Innovation Space and then tested them in the adjacent larger open area. A large storage wall with flexible compartments, shelves for project storage, mobile white boards, and flip top tables with stackable stools allow the space to be flexible and ever-changing.

Q: Is security and oversight an issue?

Peter Reiss: To promote creative uses, the space is left open and accessible to both teachers and students during the day and night – the space is open whenever the Library is open. With that approach comes the challenges of making sure supplies don’t migrate to other areas of the library, electronic devices are turned off after use, and the proper safety precautions are taken. Deerfield is working to find the right level of control for the environment – to balance safety with creativity – including a possible approach of formally credentialing students and faculty in classroom safety and required training and demonstration of skills with light prototyping equipment.   

Q: How is organization and clean-up handled?

Katie Mavrides: As usage grows, so does the stuff! The school is encouraging students to clean-up after themselves by clearly labeling supply areas to make tiding-up easier. As classes become more defined, a more concise list of materials for each class will be developed and organized. Project storage is always in demand due to the amount of student projects, so storage systems need to adapt along with changing needs. Projects range from small models made in the Geometry “Slice Form” class to larger prototypes developed by independent student projects and the Physics Wind Tunnel class project. Since the uses will continue to evolve, the storage approach will need to progress along with the ever-developing space for innovation.

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