The Situation:
Like a lot of urban universities, at Georgia State University (GSU), space is at a premium. In the past twenty years, the institution has grown by leaps and bounds, with new faculty, programs, students and a new-found reputation as a player in the highly competitive education landscape. But all the growth can make finding just the right space for a new department a difficult – even impossible task. Instead, universities like GSU are forced to make the best of what they have through smart planning and design in furnishing work and instructional spaces.

By 2009, GSU had cultivated a solid reputation in a number of academic areas, but was building the reputation as a research institution. With the decision to bolster research efforts came the identification of a dedicated research space. The new space was indeed new (a rarity) but was more or less a naked shell. To transform the new space into a true research hub, GSU enlisted the help of DeKalb Office.

Insight
In modern education, many of the old rules no longer apply, and not all changes in teaching are technology based. In a day and age of remote learning, personal interaction still counts for a lot, especially in the highly-collaborative world of research.

Drawing on a depth of educational experience and extensive research in the transformation of the classroom, DeKalb Office’s design team laid out three key tenets of the design and build-out of GSU’s new facility: Collaboration, Flexibility and Aesthetics.

Collaboration is the cornerstone any research facility – they are designed to create a collective of knowledge brought together to solve complex problems. In this context, teaching and learning are more hands-on, and much more interactive than just lecturer-to-audience teaching methodologies (though there is still a degree of that as well). DeKalb Office worked to create two kinds of collaborative spaces – deliberate and spontaneous. Deliberate collaborative spaces included labs and teaching rooms designed for structured, yet still flexible, interactions. Spontaneous spaces were designed to allow students to collaborate with each other, or teachers, as the opportunity presented itself: between class student pow-wows in welcoming common areas, or expanded work surfaces in faculty offices to allow for better teacher-student interaction.

Flexibility was another key criteria for meeting GSU’s needs. Research is a dynamic field with a changing slate of clients and partner organizations, each with their own unique set of issues to address. As such, a research department needs to be flexible in how they attack each problem – which can mean minor adaptations like setting up labs differently, or large-scale changes in areas like a school’s organizational structure. DeKalb Office designed the entirety of GSU’s space plan to be created out of modular elements – pieces that can quickly be reconfigured time and again to meet the changing needs of the school.

Last but not least, was the issue of aesthetic appeal – the look and style of the furnishings included in GSU’s design plan. Aesthetic selection is about more than just looks – though that is important. It also plays a huge role in establishing long-term value. From a visual appearance standpoint, GSU’s new space was designed with a modern styling to match the forward-looking persona research facilities must exude. But furnishings also have a simplicity and timelessness that will keep them looking current for years to come, saving on replacement costs down the line.

Results
With the new space complete, GSU’s research department is thriving and growing. Though a number of factors have gone into the group’s success, the new space has been an intangible that faculty and students point to as having “significant impact” in the highly competitive research landscape. The space lends some “instant credibility” to student and research partner recruitment efforts, and in the words of one faculty member “outshines the competition in form and function.”

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