Designing the Future: Bermuda College students get a tech-savvy new centre to call home
As a student, walking into your place of learning and being instantly inspired by dynamic colours, innovative and technically advanced spaces and inspiring quotations is a compelling start to your educational journey.
Welcome to the Athene Career Development Centre at Bermuda College! Over 7,500 square feet of renovated and extended space houses a model classroom, model computer room, innovation laboratory, the PACE (Professional and Continuing Education) division offices and an entrance hall, with an impressive “front of house” feel, which doubles up as a place to gather, a place to sit and recharge, or as a place to entertain.
Instead of creating a unique look for this new career development centre, located near the middle of the college campus and built atop an existing one-storey structure, the team at OBMI decided to follow the architectural style already in place. This means the building blends in well with the rest of the campus and allows it to work as a more sustainable model that will guide future renovations campuswide. The architectural work was led by Colin Campbell, alongside the late Glyn Quarterly, and the interiors were led by Vanessa Bean. They all worked very closely with a large team from the college, led by Dr Duranda Greene and Cleun Gaiton, and the Bermuda College Foundation. The artwork for the project was designed in collaboration with the college’s graphic design students.
Maintaining the existing architectural style meant the architects could re-use the existing beam structure but it did mean they had to take the roof off, an aspect Bean found impressive: “One thing I found cool, as an interior designer, was the ‘we’re just going to take the roof and reuse it, so all of the beams.’ I just thought it was brilliant. We could have done a glass structure and made it a really unique building, but for me, the main focus was that model. A model that’s consistent.”
In keeping with the college’s branding, turquoise and the accent colours that complement it are dominant throughout much of the new centre. The flooring in the entrance hall, the bright mural that leads through to the classrooms, the signage and even some of the furniture. “This burst of colour seeks to stimulate the minds of its users,” says Bean. In the classrooms and offices, however, she adopted the more neutral tones of white, light blue and grey: “We wanted the entrance to the classrooms to be one that stimulates energy but not too much, so as we walk into the classrooms, you’ll see that it becomes a little bit more subdued which is great for studying, but as you come out, you have that innovation,” explains Bean. She also found a great quotation by Thomas Edison to “inspire students and staff alike” which adorns a section of the mural outside the classrooms: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that didn’t work.”
The Athene Centre isn’t just a one-off project. OBMI was tasked with designing and creating a model interior that can be easily replicated throughout the campus. The concept with the model classroom was, continues Bean, “to go beyond the traditional classroom, but encourage collaboration and be able to allow a lecturer to configure it any way they want.” As has become the post-COVID norm, the technology and equipment also accommodate a hybrid situation, where one or more students may need to attend class from home. This is made possible through the use of carefully placed cameras and screens. “We have cameras in different locations, so should you have a student at home, they can feel as if they’re in the space as much as possible from various views. That was very important,” says Bean. A large screen is also connected to the college’s main lecture theatre, so when the theatre is full, instead of having to miss out, students and staff can still participate by watching from the new classroom. To improve the sound quality, the speakers are integrated into the ceiling.
The technology and the furniture are both designed to be cohesive, flexible, accessible and durable. The furniture is modular and moveable, for example. Tables can come together for collaboration or be separate. Integrated technology allows the students to connect with each other as well as share work and presentations throughout the whole classroom. The chairs, which are all from SitOnIt, flip so they can be easily stacked and, for biometric purposes, don’t have armrests. Power sockets have also been installed at intervals across the floor area, not just along the walls, allowing further flexibility with the furniture layout: “It can be configured in a U-shape or square depending on the need,” she explains.
Accessibility wasn’t just an important consideration in terms of being able to move around the new centre, something that was fully accommodated through the use of ramps and large spaces. “It was also for persons who may have visual challenges,” says Bean. For this reason, a series of large screens has been placed on the walls at the same level as the desks so someone can be closer to a screen if they need to be. In the computer room, the desks even allow for the computers to be lowered down, manually, into their own compartments, “so if the teacher wants to start off the semester with all computers down, that can happen.” An electronic model was also available as an alternative, but as most Bermudians know, electronic mechanisms tend not to last as long in our climate.
This being a college facility, durability was a vital consideration. To this end, all the flooring is vinyl which, explains Bean, is not only durable but “easy to clean and allows for easy moving of the modular furniture throughout,” adding that it is also “acoustically absorbent and physically forgiving for the lecturers who spend so much time standing on it.”
The vinyl did provide the team with an extra challenge in the computer room, however, because it has a raised floor, but it was one that they successfully managed to overcome.
The third classroom, which is smaller than the other two, is the innovation laboratory, where the robotics equipment, which includes a humanoid, a robotic arm and a 3D printer and scanner, is housed. This room has a more relaxed feel with inviting armchairs in colours that match the mural, as well as flexible desks, chairs and screens on the walls.
The spacious corridors and the dynamic flow created by the flooring and mural very much bring all these spaces together as one, and this is much enhanced by the clever use of linear ceiling lighting. “The lighting selections were important,” says Bean. “Bringing in lighting that’s more indirect, so it’s not right over your head.” Making use of the abundance of natural light was also an important consideration and, wherever feasible, the team installed long windows with subtle shades, which cut enough light while still giving a sense of the outdoors. The window styles were also deliberately designed to be in keeping with the rest of the college buildings. “The windows were extended down to the floors to allow more light in, while the colour of the walls reflects the incoming daylight reducing the need for lighting during the day, adding valuable cost savings and sustainability to the project,” explains Bean.
“Normally the IT room feels like a punishment, but not in this space,” laughs one of our judges, who adds that the centre was “a really appropriate showcase to introduce Bermuda College.” The amount of work, detail, collaboration and thought that went into creating a first-class educational space was what particularly impressed the judges. “It’s given a dated campus a successful statement,” they agree, and not only that but one that can be replicated when needed. “The space was done so well. The furniture fit, the flexibility, durability, connectivity, thoughtfulness of the accessibility, windows all the way to the floor. All this gives it that lifetime usability.”
“If you walked your 17- or 18-year-old into the Athene Centre, they’d be excited,” they add. “It embodies hopefulness, energy, investment” and, they point out, it was done on a limited budget which makes the achievement all the more impressive.
This project, add the OBMI team, was Glyn Quarterly’s last project and is stamped “with Glyn’s extensive attention to detail. We view the success of the project as a celebration and tribute to him.”