January 21, 2015 | Fox Architects | Education, Projects, Travel

Changing the Way We Learn

Last week the Fox Team had the privilege of visiting the Steelcase Global Headquarters and Learning University in Grand Rapids, MI.  While there, we met with Steelcase employees from several departments about how their research on collaboration could be used for the Emerson Innovation Center “Helix” currently being built on the University of Dayton campus.  As a result, we were able to tour their entire campus and see their exceptional architecture and universal furniture design.  Steelcase has built a reputation on workplace products, but their commitment to innovating the entire industry is what drew Emerson to ask, in what ways could they optimize the innovation process at the Helix.


The daylighting in their Learning University, an old converted manufacturing warehouse, was fantastic, and they have one of the world’s most work-friendly cafeterias, but it was their ideas on learning classrooms that I found to be the most inspiring.   They currently call the project LearnLab and it’s a way of thinking about classrooms differently.  Starting from the traditional classroom layout with students all facing forward towards the instructor, they’re testing ways classrooms can more easily transition from the lecture phase of teaching to a more collaborative and engaging group environment.  And while all classrooms are slowly finding ways to incorporate technology for the teacher, Steelcase is finding ways to incorporate it for every student in the classroom.

By examining working university classrooms to find what is productive and what things are distracting, Steelcase is finding ways to teach students about collaboration in the classroom, a skill set industries are looking for when hiring new employees.  We all remember taking notes as a student and missing half of the lecture in the process, this classroom of the future is finding ways to automatically send notes to students and keep them engaged during projects.  The opportunity to focus on the information rather than their ability to regurgitate it helps students focus better and immediately become more engaged during class.  Even sitting in a swivel chair, which allowed students to move without getting up and distracting other students, is done to help students learn and be more productive.


The visit was great inspiration to begin thinking about how the buildings and workplaces we design are as much of a tool to their owners and teachers as they are shelter for them.  Steelcase has given themselves a unique opportunity to challenge the way current classrooms are effective and keep themselves at the forefront of classroom innovation.

Despite 10″ of snow, the visit to Grand Rapids was a great success and both Fox and Emerson left with new ideas about how to make the Innovation Center an even greater success.


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