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Teaching Boosted By Design

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When your mission is to empower students who learn best in a non-traditional school setting, the most logical approach is to create a learning environment that is equally as unique.

That is precisely what transpired when the Bermuda Centre for Creative Learning (BCCL) turned to Vanessa Bean, Senior Interior Designer at OBM International in Bermuda. Ms. Bean has worked on multiple projects within Cedar House, and used her extensive knowledge and expertise to meticulously transform a vacant office space into a leading-edge learning facility. As described by Ms. Bean, “It was a blank canvas. There was no evidence of the past outside of the fact you could see the beams. Everything was cleared - the ceiling, the floor. Outside of one or two restrooms, it was completely gutted.

The project commenced in 2017, and one of the key objectives of the design was to create a space that was flexible. Ms. Bean said, “It had to have the opportunity to be small spaces, yet big spaces in the same day.” That meant the classroom walls could not be stationary, they needed to be quickly adjustable to accommodate the teaching spaces required for any given day.

To deliver on the flexibility component, mobile walls that divide one space from another, were erected throughout the BCCL. Ms. Bean explained “in the class room area the walls do not close right off, so there is still that feeling of transparency throughout the space. The mobile walls work on a ceiling mounted pivot system that allows the walls to fold back and out of the way, opening up the spaces when necessary.” The diversity of the space allows the client to host educational seminars for large groups, hold school wide meetings, and facilitate yoga sessions with views of Victoria Park.

To enhance the concept of a non-traditional learning environment, the BCCL design includes four small group rooms that can easily be divided up into eight separate spaces. This allows BCCL to provide the unique one on one training that is required for their students. It also encourages full use of the BCCL space as the learning environment that extends beyond the classroom.

One of the necessary elements of the design, was to provide one-on-one spaces. “You will have a student who will be part of the overall class, but they may require a meeting with a reading counsellor or an occupational therapist,” Ms. Bean said. “They use the small group rooms for training sessions to help the student overcome some of the challenges that they have.

The design did not stop at the classroom settings. The restrooms were also in scope, and had to be redesigned to incorporate room for changing garments for various activities. Ms. Bean said this was a sensitive component of the project, as the requirement was to make them safe spaces. “When thinking about SCARS and child protection, we thought about how the doors should be placed. That was a big design driver for me. We must create safe spaces.”

Another essential element of the design, was the creation of a bright and inviting atmosphere for students. Maple doors with glass insets were used to enhance the classroom’s airy feel, and increase the visibility into the classroom from the hallway. The maple tones also added a bit of warmth into the each classroom. At same time, two classrooms situation on the Victoria Street side were designed for students to learn in the natural light. The central classroom has glass on either side, and when standing in the middle of the building, you can see all the way through to the street. “We tried to do as much glass as possible without breaking the budget,” Ms. Bean said.

The traditional lighting included 2x2 LED fixtures, as well as some four-inch recessed fixtures that Ms. Bean described the color as 4000k, “Which more is like white light. You’re not going to fall asleep, but you’re not going to get a headache. It’s right in-between.” Additional lights utilized in the project, came with fixtures to set different moods depending on the tasks that are trying to be accomplished.

For the flooring, a vinyl, wood-like floor in a warm grey tone was used, “It provides a clean atmosphere and feels a little warmer than tile.” Ms. Bean went on to say, “The vinyl was a better way to go than carpet as the students have yoga to help practice mindfulness. The entire space can be packed up, then cleared out for yoga mats, which is pretty exciting.” Dimmable lighting also helps by setting the mood for this period of mindfulness.

The colour theme was blue, with a mix of turquoise and a poolside blue in the main spaces. It is a color provides the perfect harmony of calming and motivating. You may not get a spa-like feeling when you enter, but you certainly won’t feel like you’ve entered a cold classroom either.

By the time the project was completed earlier this year, OBMI along with the collaborative project team had created a unique, innovative and stimulating learning environment. The design matched the needs of the students and transformed the Bermuda Centre for Creative Learning into the ideal setting to employ their cutting edge teaching techniques.

Originally Published in Building Bermuda Magazine