Smith College – Young Classroom
Smith College recognized the need to provide a learning environment that would help address the unique needs of a neurodiverse student population. Backfilling vacated space within the former Young Library, the college collaborated with the design team to develop a flexible, flat-floor classroom for 75 students. The project built upon previous research and faculty workshops at Smith College focused on developing academic environments to support neurodiversity and was further developed through extensive stakeholder engagement with committees and student groups.
Based on an active-learning model, the 6,000 SF classroom space is organized around a central large room with an array of technology and writing surfaces on all sides. Central to the support for neurodiverse learners, the design team sought to provide an element of choice for students – spaces within the space that could best fit differing learning styles and preferences. Introducing the agency of choice and mitigating common distractions such as reflectivity, bold colors, strong pattern contrast, and noisy crowds became crucial design drivers to creating an inclusive environment for neurodiverse students.
Rather than a single large collaborative space, the classroom is articulated with additional, smaller learning rooms of various sizes and furnishings. Unlike breakout rooms, these spaces are intended to be used simultaneously to the large collaborative space, supported by AV technology to allow for display of content and user participation. Instead of creating a single, highly flexible space that could be endlessly re-configured with mobile furniture, the space itself is set up to offer choices and variety – a concept we deemed fixed variation.