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A custom-built environment allows faculty and students to work collaboratively at a new academic center in the Bronx.
Doban Architecture has a longstanding history with Monroe College. In 2009, the Brooklyn-based firm founded by Susan Doban completed a modular pod design for the Bronx school’s loft-style dormitories at 565 Main Street, a building for which they had also worked on an award-winning facade restoration. Last fall, the firm completed a renovation of the school’s 2,360-square-foot academic center with a scheme that allows students and faculty to interact in a collaborative environment. Neither of these projects would have been possible without Think Fabricate, the firm’s sister company. Co-founded by Doban and Jason Gorsline in November 2009, the design studio handles design projects across a range of disciplines—furniture, product, graphic, and industrial—in addition to operating its own fabrication shop in a shared East Williamsburg workspace.
The academic center’s mission of tutoring students in English and math challenged Think Fabricate to design furnishings that would create a functional environment for students and teachers, some of whom would have an office there. “The student body has a lot of adult learners and people taking classes in the evening,” said Doban. “The college wanted the academic center to be really appealing to students, and they wanted faculty to be drawn to the space as well.”
Oriented in storefront spaces off the Main Hall’s corridor, the academic center is distinguished by dark colors and a new security and reception desk, while glass in a range of transparencies lets students see in and out. In the main workspace, laminate tables allow two students and a teacher to share a sliding white board or computer, for which each individual has his own keyboard. Group meeting tables are similarly designed for collaboration with a “headless” shape, where anyone can be seen as the table’s leader. Built-in maple and laminate seating nooks further encourage students to congregate and share ideas.
Nearby, five prefabricated offices function as cubicles for faculty. “The appeal is that they don’t look like cubicles,” said Doban. Designed as one-on-one meeting spaces, each office has a built-in workstation and four walls, one of which is a sliding door mounted on Haefele hardware hidden in the header of the office system. The panelized walls are a combination of maple, chosen for appearance, price, and durability and milled with CNC equipment, and pre-laminated Panel-Lam sheets. As in its dormitory project, Think Fabricate opted to work with Panel-Lam because of its range of colors and textures coupled with its relatively low cost and durability. Because the material is slightly brittle, the approximately 4-foot-square, ¾-inch-thick sheets are cut with a table saw. “We try to minimize material waste so we weren’t really considerate of the grain directions at all times,” said Gorsline, whose background is in furniture design and fabrication. “It became another detail of the system.”
Wall panels were prefabricated in the workshop, then attached with screws to wooden frames. Save for the corner office, the cubes are 6 by 8 feet, providing enough room for a student and teacher to sit comfortably. Hall-facing panels have windows to ensure the rooms are never fully closed off, and if the offices ever need to be moved or reconfigured, the system can easily be broken down and relocated. Doban and Gorsline see the prefabricated offices as a prototype design that could work in a range of settings; they plan to explore mass and limited production options in the future. In the meantime, they are perfecting the design by hand.