Facility Focus: University of Southern Maine: The Learning Commons

Interactive and collaborative learning, rather than quiet study space, was the intention of the University of Southern Maine (USM) Learning Commons, a joint endeavor of the USM School Library and the Division of Student Success. Located on USM’s Portland campus, the Learning Commons incorporates a range of academic support programs with library resources and technologies. Designed by Harriman, the project renovated a 13,500-square-foot floor of USM’s seven-story library to create an academic and social facility that would unite students and staff with a variety of flexible learning spaces and library services.

Harriman’s approach was to create activity zones that encourage multiple modes of learning and discovery. The universal, barrier-free design places open and active areas on the perimeter, allowing natural light to penetrate the building’s deep floor plate. Enclosed group-study rooms and faculty landing offices line the interior, and study areas easily adapt to host different group sizes, further maximizing the space’s flexibility. The open floor plan features a multifunctional help desk with an innovative abstract design that provides for both a private work zone and space to collaborate with library patrons.

The use of technology was a key factor in the design. Power and data connections drop from the ceiling to provide service to freestanding pinwheel tables. An existing concrete vault from the building’s previous use as a bakery was repurposed into an audiovisual recording studio.

Comfortable furniture in collaborative seating zones can be easily reconfigured to accommodate both learning and social purposes. USM’s Learning Commons was designed to appeal to students, with an engaging and contemporary color palette that invigorates the space and creates a collegial atmosphere.

This article originally appeared in the December 2016 issue of College Planning & Management