Hospitals aren’t the only institutions breaking medical stereotypes. With the 700-sq-m Learning Commons in the University of Hong Kong’s Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, Atelier Nuno set out to inspire, build community and offer workspace. Combining cheerful hues with sinusoidal-inspired furnishings, the designers created an imaginative educational space for future doctors. The institution is currently closed due to the COVID-19 crisis, but the project outlines the benefits of rethinking what in-person learning can look like.

To call the university a rapidly changing institution in the face of the pandemic verges on understatement. As colleges scramble to reformat course content through Zoom transmissions and Dropbox alone, students in programmes with physical class components are left for want. Labs have been postponed and end-of-term project shows cancelled. Some college students are taking to social media to stream their anxieties, bemoaning the lack of structure, peer-to-peer support, and – in the case of international students that have returned to their home countries – having to wake up for 2am Zoom lectures.

Brick-and-mortar classrooms not only give way to valuable interpersonal interaction, but allow for increased spontaneity and the mix of private and public programmes. The Learning Commons capitalizes these positives. Atelier Nuno designed a double-sided blue sofa – its sinusoidal shape curves through the lobby space, offering passersby flexible seating. These curved forms are referenced in the design of nearby classrooms. In one, a 40-seat table bends throughout the space – effectively a group-work table that can double as individual workspaces.

Four meeting rooms, a pantry and a locker area are finished in shades of peach. These meeting rooms are partitioned from the lounge area with floor-to-ceiling glazing, maintaining a sense of transparency. More than nine hundred dimmable white globes populate the ceiling above. Set to a timer these lights vary in intensity throughout the day, their glow reflecting off the stainless-steel wall panels in the adjacent hall.

In the lecture theatre, clusters of steel chairs dot the green carpet. Like a patch of softly tousled grass on a summer’s day, students are invited to use the chairs – but also to sit, kneel, lie down and gather informally on this make-shift ‘lawn’ as they listen to the day’s lecture…anything but crouch over a Zoom chat window.

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