What colleges can learn from a co-working space designed exclusively for women

Daily Briefing

What colleges can learn from a co-working space designed exclusively for women

Comfortable, inclusive spaces support innovation and engagement for everyone

Everything in a workspace—from the lighting to the temperature to the layout—can affect comfort and productivity. That’s one reason why architect Alda Ly spearheaded a movement to design co-working and event spaces exclusively for women, Betsy Morais writes for The Atlantic.

Ly directed the design of The Wing, a “co-working and social club for women” based in New York City, with workspaces best described as soft-hued, light-filled lofts—plastered with wallpaper of notable women from history and adorned with pastel-colored loveseats and lounge chairs.

But the significance of the space isn’t in the pinks or the florals, Ly explains. It’s in providing women with workspaces that make them feel comfortable.

For most of corporate history, architects designed offices primarily with men in mind. Ly notes that some start-up offices are, in essence, man-caves filled with “foosball tables, beanbags, beer pong.” She wants The Wing to show the world that there can be an alternative.

The Wing workspaces offer simple pleasures intended to increase comfort and feelings of belonging. Ly carefully planned areas for both collaboration and privacy—including powder rooms and pumping stations. Thermostats are kept between 73 and 74 degrees—slightly warmer than the typical corporate office.

The takeaway for colleges? Comfortable, carefully designed spaces help support working, teaching, and learning. For example, EAB research suggests that small changes to classroom layout can inspire student engagement and feelings of inclusivity: “Relatively simple physical modifications—such as whiteboards, swivel chairs, or tables with wheels—can have a greater impact on learning outcomes than expensive technology.”

John Medina, a professor at the University of Washington, made a similar argument in an interview in 2017. He notes that simple architectural tweaks—like more natural light, higher ceilings, and color choice—can encourage problem solving and innovative thinking in classrooms and workspaces. Similarly, diversifying spaces—an architectural strategy that The Wing has mastered—boosts creativity, and comfortable private areas have been shown to foster productivity.

The University of Toronto experimented with some of these strategies to create semi-private and open workspaces for staff. After the redesign, staff reported higher productivity and increased teamwork (Morais, The Atlantic, 4/12/18).

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