The modern school library is a multipurpose, flexible facility. At any one moment there is a class of students under instruction, a group ‘studying quietly’, people researching on personal devices, and a bookworm escaping to a fictional world. Alongside the library’s traditional purpose, the space is now required to function as a classroom, a breakout zone, and a digital research centre. Modern teaching methods require an open-plan, dynamic layout, allowing teachers and staff line of sight to students in all locations.
Whangaparaoa Primary School knows all about acoustics and aesthetics, as they recently refurbished their school library with Autex Composition®. Principal Kevin Cronin said acoustics were important because of the way they impact children’s learning environments by eliminating noises and distractions. Modern learning spaces – libraries included – are designed to promote the cycle of learning. Students focus alone or in pairs to generate ideas, plan, and digest information, then come together to learn, share, and present.
To enable this cycle to operate correctly, spaces are typically laid out as zones: areas within the space that are designated to support specific activities.
“We have lots of students in different pockets and different areas [in the library] and their work and learning can be separate from children who are quite close. They are not being distracted by others [as] the sounds are just being absorbed by the environment.”
Zones can be denoted in different ways. Pathways inlaid in the carpet, blocks of colour, ceiling elements or installations, curved walls, feature finishes, or purposeful furniture. The zones work like islands; the feel, layout, and furniture elements define the space’s use. Students will gravitate towards them naturally and move between them when required.
The architectural and acoustic separation of these zones is created using space, dividing walls, and strategically placed acoustic elements. Flexibility is added using movable screens and partitions.
The finishes of each space can enhance the activity. In the modern multipurpose library, best practice includes a full coverage acoustic ceiling and acoustic wall coverings on walls and partitions around focused work areas, offering a change in colour and absorption to reduce the reverberated sound energy. Suspended ceiling elements are a means of defining space without interrupting the floor area.
Throughout the retrofit of the Whangaparoa Primary School library, Cronin was assisted by Autex.
“We’ve been lucky enough to have people who have been very accommodating and prompt in their response. They have worked with us to make sure the design options are discussed and that we are happy with things. They have shown us things along the way and kept us informed so we are always in a position to say yes or no or how about this,” he said.
The result is a learning environment that is a pleasure to be in, future proofing the school for many years of growth.