ADR catches up with global director and education sector leader at Woods Bagot, Georgia Singleton, to find out the biggest challenges that architects are facing and how the design of educational institutions is evolving.
What does a ‘typical’ day look like in your role as global leader of Science and Education?
The only consistency is that every day is a little bit different. At the moment I’m spending the majority of my time in our Sydney studio because of the sheer amount of significant science and education projects on the go on the east coast of NSW. There’s also a fair amount of travel – next fortnight will see me visit Melbourne and Perth, and next month I’m in our San Francisco and London studios.
It’s an exciting time to be working in these sectors because we’re experiencing a demand for spaces that mix disciplines and require us to draw on on our expertise designing all kinds of buildings. Educational projects can draw on influences from hospitality design, science research facilities are inspired by flexible workplace environments and so on. It’s almost impossible to have a ‘typical’ day anymore because there are no typical projects.
How is the design of educational institutions evolving? What themes/trends are you seeing and what do you view as a possible future for education design?
Interdisciplinary projects are on the rise and so is the demand for agile buildings. Educational institutions are evolving towards sites that are not traditionally delineated and want adaptability rather than being specific to one course or subject. We’re seeing new typologies where social or retail spaces mix into one or become vertical layers, allowing students to work around the campus or offsite because they are not restricted to having an appropriate workspace in only one building.
Projects like Melbourne Innovation Precinct – with ‘super’ facilities where University of Melbourne staff and students, researchers, local and international businesses and start-up companies will connect and collaborate – are the future because they become hubs of 24-hour activity that blur the lines between previously denoted typologies of science, education and lifestyle. There are also more research-led teaching buildings. United by the need for access to high-level and expensive technology – such as SHAMRI 2’s Proton Therapy Unit (Adelaide) – these spaces put research on display. We’re finding that more and more that clients are asking us for concepts using research facilities and technology as a starting point.
An aspect of your role that you are particularly interested in is understanding how the workplace environment can affect the behaviours of researchers and practitioners in a health setting: what kind of insights have you garnered in this area and how does this impact the way you now design spaces?
Playfulness is important in any research environment but it has yet to be included in any brief I’ve received. It’s important to break down the rigid working environments of a traditional science setting and begin to give them more of a studio-like feel. Designing adaptive spaces where objects can be easily moved around according to changing needs, or ensuring a building is permeable rather than too thick and closed can unlock boundaries and allow for a more creative, inspirational environment.
Permeable workplaces connect researchers and practitioners to the outside world, creating access to nature and increasing mood and productivity. Biophilic designs that draw on the known benefits of being in nature and bringing daylight, plants, water and natural materials into the workplace have a big impact on wellbeing and influence the way we design spaces today.
You’ve worked on a diverse range and scale of architecture and interiors projects: what are your favourite spaces to design and why?
I’m absolutely passionate about any public space that inspires people to learn. We’re working at an exciting time because we can influence and change the way that students learn through research, and clients are becoming increasingly open to that. It’s time for a big paradigm shift in the field of education that reflects the changes in approach we’ve been making over the last decade or so.
What are the biggest challenges facing architects in today’s world and particularly in your sector?
Architects switch between myriad roles – from researcher to counsellor, to brand expert and more – constantly viewing projects from different angles and considering opposing priorities. It’s natural for the definition of what an architect does to develop. Our profession is evolving to include a need to develop and acknowledge these high-value skills. We need to accept that and be willing to adapt to these changes. Challenges are exciting, too. In science and education, we’re at the forefront of making hybrid spaces where the boundaries of a sector are blurred for spatial and social transformation.
We’re also looking at masterplanning opportunities in the spaces between related environments that could be more meaningfully be connected. Currently, we’re working on a number of proposals that further the ground gained by SAHMRI’s blurring of the boundaries between health, research and education – placing good design within the space between hospital and university type spaces and the surrounding city. I find the challenges of new frontiers incredibly stimulating.