To inform the vision, Gehl conducted almost a hundred interviews, walk-arounds, and focus groups with faculty, students, and staff to understand where and how interdisciplinary collaborations originated and how they developed over time. The team mapped and observed spaces across the seven existing schools that would be contributing programs to the new sustainability school and the three institutes that would be located in the school.
Gehl used lessons about what has worked – and what hasn’t – to reverse engineer a new environment for collaboration. The results of Gehl’s ethnography and analysis have become a set of insights and design principles to guide the new school’s development as ground is broken on two new buildings and existing buildings are retrofitted to accommodate the new programs. This “operating system” of sociability and collaboration on which innovation and learning can run will underpin the major design decisions ahead for the school.
If the effort is successful, the Doerr School will be like a theater stage filled with activity during each act of a play, with new sets and new characters taking center stage in sequence. Circulation areas can become impromptu collaboration spaces, and shared private work rooms are always a few steps away for booking electronically. The landscape in and around the school will be an important feature as both a social and an academic environment, leveraging California’s mild Mediterranean climate for outdoor classrooms and relieving the demand on conditioned space. Investment in quality amenities will be concentrated in shared spaces, where resources will benefit the most people and attract more users. Opportunities for “breaking bread” together will be a centerpiece of the social environment of the school and a way to graciously host guests. Efficiency, environmental sustainability, collaboration, and social sustainability are interwoven in our vision for the spaces of the new school — a microcosm of what’s needed for our planet.