The Centre for Enquiry:
the new library at Aiglon College.
The new library at Aiglon College, the highly-regarded Swiss international boarding school, is an expression of one of the school’s Guiding Principles, which encourages its students to be ‘inquisitive and motivated learners, able to reach an understanding of the world around them through rigorous and critical thinking and the acquisition of a strong body of knowledge’.
The construction of a new building presented an opportunity to redefine the role of the library within Aiglon College. The teaching staff wanted to bring it firmly into the heart of the school, creating a space that was open, inviting, supporting and included a makerspace.
From its original modest quarters across the road from the main campus, the library now occupies a whole floor of a Swiss chalet-style teaching block right in the centre of the school.
The Centre for Enquiry, as the new space is known, marks the evolution of the library from somewhere you might go to borrow a book to an expansive hub of learning; an engaging, interactive, social space where you create, as well as acquire, knowledge. With social zones, a café area, a fully equipped makerspace and tiered seating where groups can gather, it’s a paradigm shift from the traditional library concept.
When we visited the school and met some of the students we were struck by how much they enjoyed their location, high in the Swiss Alps, and the stunning views from the balcony. They said they’d like to be able to curl up on the balcony with a hot chocolate and a good book, enjoying fresh air and the beautiful mountain outlook. All three of the zones in the Centre for Enquiry have access to outside space and not just because the students like it: physical movement and being in a natural environment are both proven to boost cognitive performance. The school had considered extending the library into the space occupied by the balcony but its benefits to learning and the students’ reaction convinced them otherwise.
THE THREE KEY ZONES OF THE CENTRE FOR ENQUIRY
Tiered seating provides a place where students can gather for presentations or debate.
Agile Bite Tables with LearningSurface® mean students can work alone or collaboratively, reconfiguring the furniture to suit
At the heart of the Centre for Enquiry, you find a zone replete with books and nooks for reading where you can enjoy some alone time. Rather than a librarian looming, sentry-like, at the entrance, the Centre for Enquiry runs on a trust system and students check out their own books. Support is at hand but in a more relaxed, ambient supervisory fashion. Rather than owning fixed territory, staff use trolleys as mobile, personal storage units and move them to wherever they wish to work. A central tucked away storage area provides space for storing and processing books.
One side of this zone has study booths and tub chairs – it’s a sophisticated, grown-up study space reserved for the sixth-form and feels like a first-class aircraft cabin. Opposite is the café area where you’ll find books on travel and cookery as well as graphic novels. With comfortable sofas and coffee tables this is a relaxed and social space.
The principles of ‘zoning’ are key to the centre for enquiry’s success.
The library café space provides opportunity for staff and students to interact.
Study booths provide small areas of privacy for FOCUSED work.
"Having the café space in the library, where students and staff bump into each other and chat, has been transformational in terms of relationships.”
DEPUTY HEAD, AIGLON COLLEGE
"When we were commissioning the design for the Centre for Enquiry, other companies gave us what we thought we wanted. Spaceoasis gave us what we actually needed.”
LEAD LIBRARIAN, AIGLON COLLEGE
At the opposite end of the library to the quiet study zone is the makerspace, which is where the hands-on exploration and self-directed, practical learning happens. On one side you’ll find 3D printers, workbenches, green screen and ceiling-mounted power with pull-down cables complemented by soft seating and tiered seating (for instruction and demonstrations), with book storage in the back. The opposite side is dedicated to paper: printers, cutting mats, tools for laminating, collating and binding, plus recycling bins.
The central area of the makerspace zone is a clear space for demonstrating your creations, with a chalkboard paint floor so you can measure how far your elastic band car / paper plane / robot gets. In this space the balcony could act as a drop zone for experiments involving gravity.
Books still play a key role in the Centre for Enquiry, but the collection has been streamlined (students can request books from the archive if they are not on the shelves) to free up space for knowledge creation and exploration. The result is a place where students feel welcome, where they have the freedom to explore, experiment and learn in a way that suits them. And if they just need some thinking time, there are quiet spaces, comfortable chairs and places to sit and reflect.