Finally, the Alan Gilbert Learning Commons opened its doors to students and as they came trudging in, wet and windswept, it was clear that this visionary building immediately inspired them. Honouring the University’s late inaugural president and vice-chancellor, this building’s ‘distinctly Manchester’ design is reflected throughout. Names of contributors are forever engraved into the floor tiles, motivating quotes echo across the oak panelling and student artwork subtly graces the walls. Glass panelling and the full height atrium space flood the building with natural light so that even on Manchester’s most miserable days, this is a cool and contemporary atmosphere which instantly became one of the University’s most desirable places to study.
Although architecturally the building has caused controversy, juxtaposed with some of the University’s most iconic buildings, the Alan Gilbert Learning Commons is praised for its student-oriented design features. Except for an underground conveyor belt from the library, this building has thought of everything! With Wi-Fi available in and outside the building, students can choose from 1000 dynamic study spaces offering ergonomic seating designs to suit everybody, from high-backed chairs to low-slung sofas or secretive study booths. However in practice some of the furniture is itchy and impractical and the arm-rest-desks have not considered left-handed people! The planned 24-hour study areas are equipped with laptop connectable media screens, while the 30 ‘smart classrooms’ seating up to 12 also include whiteboards. Working is easier with individual desk lamps, the widened and adjustable PC screens and ample (and height adjustable) desk space for sprawling papers. Mile long extension cables are a thing of the past as plug sockets feature at all fixed furniture, and underfloor bus-bars provide additional charging space. All computers, including the 18 quick access PCs connect to Multi-Function Devices, providing scanning and photocopying facilities, and printing access across campus using the ‘pull printing’ system.
Another focus of this building is its eco-friendly ethos. Additional to recycling are monitors which detect carbon dioxide levels and lighting designed to be sensitive to natural light and occupancy, therefore minimising energy wastage. The café attempts to source its produce locally too, providing fresh breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. Although open to students, the building has more surprises to unveil! All floors already provide disabled access, but this is improving with a disabled suite on the ground floor still to arrive. Lockers arrive soon for secure laptop and mobile phone charging. Also from the 29th October there will be new software installed for video and audio production and editing, with Skype available during the 24/7 period.
Although students are swapping their bedrooms every day for this stimulating new environment, it is clear that the study space situation has yet to be resolved. While some have criticised the lack of desk space and prefer the more traditional feel of the library, this building represents something different and exciting, and until you have wandered through Alan Gilbert and found your favourite spot, you have yet to be enlightened!