Pardee Learning Commons construction update – Recreating Spaces and Redefining Learning

“Light, light, light” is the chief mantra of the Paradee Learning Commons building team, says Unathi Ntuli, Project Manager of our campus construction project, gripping the most recent plans while taking a tour of the construction site. At African Leadership Academy, a new and totally reimagined library is at the centre of this vision. The full construction plan features new buildings to support ALA’s innovative curriculum and programming, and includes spaces such as a BUILD-lab, 45-seat theatre-style classrooms, a wellness centre and art studios. It will also create outdoor and public spaces that will encourage learning, reflection and community, such as an amphitheatre and outdoor classrooms.

The Pardee Learning Commons, the second construction project in ALA’s campus masterplan, will redesign and redefine learning spaces, cementing ALA as a model for 21st century teaching and learning. The Project Team envisions hundreds of students and faculty members walking through the building, peering through transparent meeting rooms and working in classrooms that invite teamwork and collaboration. This architecture for education paradigm requires a redesign of the learning spaces themselves. The libraries of the past were houses for books. Their primary function was the safe keeping of volumes of paper pages. Some books were so rare that they were chained to a specific desk where only one person could sit. These were places of solitary study, naturally silent due to the isolation of the scholar. However, with ALA’s dynamic, interactive method of learning, libraries are no longer constrained to be merely facilities dedicated to the storage and distribution of books. What is essential is the contents rather than the form. Buildings can offer versatile access to various sources and, most importantly, ways to affect our school rhythms and reinforce our culture.

We seek to create a comfortable learning area that will serve as the hub of campus academic life. The new library will house ‘resources’ – physical books and a vast array of technology, while also doubling as a venue to share information. As such, the building will centre on an open air courtyard that is intersected by a pathway connecting the North of campus to the South. The courtyard will also be planted and feature outdoor space to meet classmates or teachers.  Like Ntuli mentioned, windows will allow for natural light and additional inspiration from the outdoors, preserving the idea of transparency. The mezzanine will have two reading rooms that can also be used as classrooms as well as a large, more traditional library space for quiet and solitary study. This central area will connect with meeting areas, a video conference space, and other teaching rooms.

Furthermore, art students, fledgling entrepreneurs and IT gurus can experiment with their latest creations and inventions in design labs and workshop spaces.  “We aim to be a temple to ideas,” Ntuli states. This also means that the library will be well-curated and designed to spur on dynamic thought, showcasing all perspectives on a topic. Paying ode to new educational trends, curators will make ideas visible to coax further inquiry and self-directed research. Learners will use the space interact with exhibitions and special artefacts.

In keeping with ALA’s commitment to integrity, the design respects green building principles – namely in the reuse and recycling of existing building materials. Although the greenest building is no building at all; the second greenest is repurposing a building that already exists! This principle was communicated to our students and staffulty – helping to inform them about sustainability.

What makes the Pardee Learning Commons construction, and indeed the Campus Master Plan, unique, is how everyone at ALA got a say in its design. “While we are inspired and influenced by contemporary building design, we wanted a campus that had our special mark on it,” says Ntuli.

We are excited that this community project is progressing beautifully and we expect to open it in September 2017 – just in time for us to welcome our 10th class of ALA students! More pictures and updates here.

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