What Is Space Planning?

Space must be efficiently and effectively utilised – as a consequence, space planning in universities is an important factor for architects and interior designers to and is subject to continuous monitoring and review.

Space planning involves a detailed analysis of how a room or building will be used, taking into consideration various aspects, including but not limited to the following: the purpose of the space, requirements for flexibility, the number of occupants, the space required per occupant, budget and time constraints, furniture, fixtures and fittings, colour scheme, legislative and environmental requirements, access and how the space is connected to other spaces.

In an increasingly diverse education environment with ever shifting parameters in terms of approaches to learning, effective space management has become a paramount feature in the overall management of a campus. Universities and other higher education facilities are increasingly prioritising investment in their estates, with a focus on facilities and buildings – according to Forbes contributor Christine Comaford, today's generation of students want 'to be mentored in an environment where they can advance quickly', and where they 'have the tools to win'.


The number of universities and other HE institutions employing individuals for the specific purpose of space and timetable planning is on the rise. Some universities have a designated in-house team for space and design management, whereas others contract external parties to perform audits and help plan space usage. Effective timetabling is an integral part of space planning, ensuring that rooms are not overbooked or left empty – unused space needs to be identified quickly as it wastes valuable resources.

Types Of Space In The University

The majority of UK universities categorise their space into two distinct types – non-specialist teaching space and specialist teaching space.

Non-Specialist Teaching Areas

A non-specialist teaching space typically describes a designated space or building which can be used by a variety of disciplines and accommodate various usages – there is nothing inherently special or different about this space which would preclude anybody from using it.

Today there is an increasing trend within the UK's HE education sector towards enhancing its civic identity, making it more outward facing and accessible to the wider public. This change has placed a distinct emphasis on the creation of flexible learning spaces during space planning, with more and more institutions focussing on the provision of dynamic spaces which facilitate and encourage collaborative learning. Such spaces typically include multiple uses, connecting and establishing the university as an integral part within the local community, as well as ensuring it is 'open for business' – able to accommodate and provide facilities for third parties and variable capacities.

Examples of non-specialist teaching spaces include:

Specialist Teaching Areas

The specialist teaching space is either specifically designed to accommodate the teaching of a particular subject or activity, or it may hold a specific license or be covered by a legal restriction.

Examples of specialist teaching areas include:

  • Laboratories
  • Workshops
  • IT/Computer Suites with specialised hardware and software which intended for a particular discipline
  • Studios

dundee university lecture theatre

Space Planning For Lecture Theatres

What Is The Lecture Theatre?

The lecture theatre design differs from that of a traditional classroom, it is typically a larger space which encompasses an auditorium design, optimised for an audience to performer relationship. The design of the lecture theatre includes the incorporation of a number of key elements to enhance the learning experience.

In many universities, a key area of academic teaching space is designated to the lecture theatre; a non-specialist, multi-purpose space, which can be utilised for a wide range of uses such as teaching and presenting, staff meetings, conferences, performances, public speaking events and interactive learning and discussion to name but a few.

The design and use of space within the lecture theatre can have a significant influence on the learning experience and performance. Poorly designed spaces can have a negative effect on learning and engagement, discouraging rather than encouraging – the overall design of the theatre must stimulate absorption and concentration.

Whilst there is still a demand within universities for large lecture theatres, the overall design has shifted away from the traditional theatre in rows, towards reconfigurable furniture arrangements which allow individuals to move around freely – there is a distinct emphasise on group working, collaboration and flexibility.


Learning Pedagogies Enhanced By Space Planning

Effective space planning is key to supporting and enhancing a range of learning pedagogical approaches.

Increased Knowledge Retention

Good design not only refer to aesthetics, it has a huge impact on outcomes, leading to improved workflow and ultimately higher results as well as greater student and staff productivity.

Active Learning

The active learning approach acknowledges the active role in which learners play in the learning process; this differs from traditional learning styles where knowledge is transmitted from the teacher to be absorbed by the student. Space planning, use of furniture and fittings, and the successful implementation of appropriate technology into the overall design, plays a fundamental role in the student centred approach, empowering students to take an active role in their learning and enabling them to work collaboratively in small groups, engage in enquiry based, problem solving and discovery learning.

Flipped Classroom

The Flipped Classroom refers to an inverted form of conventional classroom based learning whereby students are introduced to learning material outside of the classroom, often online. This teaching style, much like the active learning approach can be significantly enhanced by providing a flexible learning space which, via the provision of a collaborative learning space and problem solving facilities, can be used to discuss and consolidate the understanding of material introduced outside the classroom.


The science behind the idea of learning and how to teach and communicate knowledge to students, is typically measured by teaching which leads to improved student progress. This however, can be greatly facilitated or hindered by the teaching environment, elements of space planning such as integrating available technology, furniture, fittings and fixtures, climate, colour can all have a positive or negative effect on both the student and the educator.


Collaborative Learning

A collaborative learning space enables successful group engagement, allowing students to work with one another as well as with the teacher. For a successful collaborative learning space, space planning is key – the architectural design, seating, technology and so forth, creates a space which promotes peer-to-peer learning, critical thinking, cooperation and sharing, as well as engagement and stimulation.

Transitioning Into The World Of Work

There are an increasing number of universities which offer specifically designed buildings for applied learning – in such places a replica of a career environment is provided for students, this serves to prepare students for possible challenges and situations which they may face during their future careers in a practical way.

Space Planning Considerations


The seating design plans is fundamental to space management both in the lecture theatre and throughout the rest of the university; where individuals sit and what they can and can't see, and who they are able to interact with, plays a vital role in performance and output.

Seating solutions for lecture theatres should meet the individual specifications of each institution, optimise the available space, whilst providing uninterrupted sight-lines, comfort and an inclusive learning environment for all demographics.

Desk Space

Students should be able to write or use laptops and tablets easily, and take notes within their seats without feeling cramped or restricted. The patented A3 Wrimatic Integrated writing tablet is suitable for both left hand and right hand users, providing ample space to increase and maximise learning potential.

Structural Tiering

Also referred to as raking, stepping or risers – tiering is a platform on which seating is secured to. Fixed tiered seating is one of the most popular seating arrangements for the lecture theatre – it allows the implementation of improved sight lines, due to the staggered raised height.


In large rooms intended for multiple occupants, as part of space planning, consideration must be given to ventilation systems, air exchange rates and air conditioning.


High quality acoustics is an important feature in many lecture halls and must be incorporated into the overall design.

Interior Design

The importance of colour and how it can affect productivity and engagement within the learning environment is not to be underestimated, and forms an integral part of space planning and interior design. Other crucial elements of design include tactile fabrics and finishes, choice of flooring and of course lighting.

Integrated Technology

The 'Phygital Experience' – a term used to describe the interaction between a physical and digital space, where the traditional 'physical' experience of the campus merges with the ever expanding digital online experience. Architectural requirements are evolving at a considerable rate to accommodate phygital environments, allowing a smooth and successful mergence of the physical and the digital, a growing necessity within the academic environment.


As part of space planning, accessibility must be considered for those with mobility challenges. Designated disabled access spaces should be incorporated into the design to allow ease of access and adjustments to the built environment, such as the appropriate furniture, fittings and fixtures.

How We Can Help

Ferco Seating offer bespoke seating solutions for a wide range of venues including educational establishments. We help maximise the use of space whilst offering an inclusive learning environment with adequate wheelchair access. Design is optimised to provide enhanced sight-lines, provisions for ventilation systems, the inclusion of power and data points to meet the demands of technological advancements. Tiered seating can be installed on flat or sloped structure bases, uneven floors can also be used with adjustable feet on support legs. Get in touch today for more information.