As the saying goes, “if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.” This adage certainly holds true at North Park University in Chicago, where a recent renovation didn’t meet the changing need of the student body, thus requiring a redesign of the space once more. AGATI took a field trip to North Park University recently to interview some of the staff and students who witnessed the change from “Ottoman Empire” to “the Age of Enlightenment.”
The original design intent was for the student body to socialize, take breaks, and enjoy a well-deserved midday nap. The original concept did not include space for collaborative work. After speaking with one student, this became clear – “Plenty of my friends came here to sleep between classes, but it never really worked as a place to do homework before, and that’s what we wanted.”
Once North Park University realized the changing intent within Johnson Center, they quickly reconnected with the original architecture firm to re-create a space for students to collaborate. They retained a few ottomans to keep the space for students to lounge, however the new design included Agati’s banquette seating with tables and shelving on the panels, creating seating along the outer shells of the banquettes.
Adding the banquettes and tables made the space a more productive area, noticed by students and staff alike. Every student we interviewed said they noticed an increase not only in the number of students working on homework and projects in the Center, but also an increased number of students and staff using the lobby as a general meeting and work space.
One student said she uses the space to “meet up with classmates for projects before and after our [she and her classmates’] class in here [Johnson Center]. It’s easier since it’s not just ottomans. A lot of people didn’t come in here because it wasn’t comfortable to work alone, let alone together.”
Another student said “the upright sit of the [banquette] seats helps because you don’t have to lean over to work. It helps you sit up, and it’s a lot more comfortable to sit in. It helps with the tables, too. I still use the ottomans, but there are a lot more people in here because there’s more space to work and it doesn’t feel like a place to sleep.”
By mixing banquette seating and ottomans, students and staff have plenty of options within the space to use it in a way that best suits their needs. “It’s easier to work at a table than on the ottoman. Everyone I know likes it better this way,” another student said of their experience with the space.
In a school of about 2500 students, it becomes very clear when something is or is not working. Re-purposing this space allowed for an environment, that was strictly intended for lounging, to evolve into a place of collaboration. Although this evolution may have come at a cost to the university, the end result allowed the student body and staff alike to use Johnson Center in the most appropriate manner for their community.