A Physical Space for Student Well-being

Zahira Tasabehji, Design Research Team Lead

Editor’s Note: In light of COVID-19 and social distancing, we would like to note that the insights expressed in this post were developed prior to the COVID-19 crisis. We acknowledge that imagining student spaces physically looks very different at this time, and we hope that some of these insights provide value to virtual spaces for students.

Students often spend long hours on campus. Throughout the day, they move around to accommodate their busy schedules. Classes eat up big chunks of time, but in the spaces between, students look for comfortable places to relax or be productive. They find many formal study spaces , but are those the only places they seek?

To provide more student-friendly spaces on campus, the Innovation Hub partnered with the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education (KPE) for the Fall-Winter 2019/2020 term to redesign the Benson Pool Gallery. We wanted to turn the Gallery into an accessible student space. Moreover, we wanted to ensure it was truly student friendly. Thus, we interviewed other students about what they need in community spaces. Our ultimate goal was to answer the question: “How can the Benson Pool Gallery be redesigned to offer an innovative multi-use community space for students?

A visualization of the main themes - there are 5 circles intersecting with one another with the theme title and iconsSpace is not merely a physical environment that students occupy. It has the power to influence the way students feel and act. Students’ experiences revealed the importance of a space in enhancing four aspects of well-being: physical, emotional, social, and mental. We identified four themes that related to these aspects. Students are looking for a one-stop shop, a home away from home, room to connect, and opportunities to be alone together. Though divided into four separate aspects and themes, all of these student needs are interconnected and influence one another.

Students have various needs on campus at different times (rest, study, socialize, eat, etc.) Regardless of their various needs, a space needs to provide a one-stop shop that accommodates all their needs in one place and saves them the hassle of having to constantly move from one spot to another. Students need a space in which they have their basic needs being met, their bodies and work styles accommodated for and in which they are free to be themselves without feeling like they are intruding on others.

Because of the long hours they spend on campus, many students regard it as their second home. For that reason, students often seek spaces that help them feel comfortable in their home away from home. Students expressed the desire for a space that allows them to breathe, reduces their stress, and grants them permission to dwell. A space can feel “homey” through its decor, atmosphere and sense of welcome.

In a vast campus, many students experience feelings of loneliness and isolation. A space can create a social atmosphere in which students can build friendships and develop new connections. It can give students room to connect and help them feel a sense of belonging so they feel less alone. The design of the space and availability of shared amenities can potentially influence the way students connect with one another.

Although students want to share time with others, doing things alone is also part of what it means to be a student. Whether they are working or studying alone, students still need to feel like they are part of a group to reduce feelings of isolation. A space can facilitate quiet connection and contribute to students being alone together. Students feel motivated when they are surrounded by others and seek spaces where they feel a sense of familiarity.

These findings will help KPE renovate the Clara Benson Pool Gallery into a multipurpose student space. But the benefits extend beyond that: these are universal insights about student spaces, and both KPE and other departments can use them to improve other common spaces. The more places UofT offers for students to live, connect, belong, and feel at home, the more vibrant campus life becomes. So let us work together on transforming education beyond academics and extending it to include all aspects of well-being.

View the Report Here

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