Tuesday, 1 May 2012

The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology - Learning Commons

This university has the most spectacular location at "Clear Water Bay" in the New Territories

View of Clear Water Bay
 Imagine being a student here and your residence having these spectacular views over Clear Water Bay, and even if you are located at the back of the building, this is what greets you….

Which is not so bad!

Hong Kong University of Science and Technology is a very young university which celebrated it’s 20th Anniversary in November 2011. 

The entrance to campus is quite impressive, with a semi circle of buildings leading into a large atrium

Entrance to university

At the far end of the plaza is a balcony with views of the bay

View from the balcony

View onto an open deck area
This atrium includes electronic information for students and leads to other departments, buildings and facilities

Large, external information display

Most universities visited have escalators in use
The entrance to the University Main Library is from this large atrium area, and leads directly into the large open area used for exhibitions and other events.  When I arrived it was set up ready for a “book talk” later I the afternoon.

University Library
Entry into the library is simple, there is no need for University ID, this is because this is a publically funded University and it is open and available to the local community.  However, the University is approximately 3 miles from the local town, so although the local community does use the library, they are not usually inundated by visitors.

Unlike the stream of visitors to the new learning commons that they have hosted since it opened in February 2012 and they have a busy schedule of visitors to  come. 

With all this interest in the new learning commons, it was wonderful to be hosted by the Learning Commons Manager and the Library IT and Infrastructure Manager who were not only enthusiastic about the library and its facilities, but seemed particularly delighted to have another opportunity to show me around and discuss every detail.  They were happy to answer questions they must have answered many times previously, patiently and with very good humour!

We started the tour on the ground floor , discussing first the digital “e-board” digital signage system they were running via large kiosks and screens throughout the library.

Again, the students were revising for examinations, there was one week of exams left, so revision was intense and we were keen to disturb the students as little as possible.

A large area of this floor is dedicated to the Information Commons, an area created in 2007  to combine the ability to study, research and collaborate and which was the precursor to the new Learning Commons.  It is an area full of computers with a wide variety of furniture layouts.

 Some of the layouts offer very generous spaces for students to work with a single PC and have space for a range of other resources, including their own devices

 The Library have plans to increase PC provision on these tables 2 per side, doubling provision and improving the range of facilities for students.

Student using the fixed PC and his own laptop and
other resources
 The university is also increasing the provision of MACs and has small clusters for Mac users

The building is a half circle shape, and on every floor the light and the views from the full height windows was fantastic. 

 Towards the back of the Information commons was an area of traditional study tables, but with power retrofitted to enable use with laptops and other mobile devices.

Because of limited funding, the library has worked hard to reuse and recycle furniture to ensure that the students have plenty of access to facilities including power which has been installed retrospectively.  So, although not all facilities are brand new, they are good quality, sound and completely fit for purpose.

Study facilities for groups and individuals
We then moved to the first floor, which is actually the top floor of this 5 storey building, as the library is constructed on a hillside.

Each of the floors has access to a study deck, where students can work outside.  Some furniture has been built into the deck, and other patio type furniture for group work has been provided.

External study decks, with solar lighting
Built in and "loose" furniture
 Power has also been provided where possible

Wall mounted power units
Furniture needs to be robust as this area is subject to typhoons, so heavy furniture reduces the risk of it being blown about!

Study Deck
Before going to look at the Learning Commons, we visited the other 2 floors, both Lower Ground, but with wonderful views and light.

On Lower Ground 3 is a vast multi-media collection housed in compact shelving in addition to a large proportion of the approximately 750,000 volumes held by the library.

It was in this area that we saw the first of 40 group study rooms located in and managed by Library staff.

Fully equipped multi-media group study room 

The floor on the lowest level is also the location for much of the library collection and provides many more areas for students to study.  In addition to the large open areas with views outside and views up the building,

View of full height atrium in the library from lowest floor 
View of garden from the lowest floor
Students have access to more quiet and individual spaces

HKUST Learning Commons

The new learning commons is located on Lower Ground Floor 1 because it can be completely isolated from the main library and opened 24/7.  The out of hours access is located by the Student’s Union.

The space has 5 distinct areas of activity:

Group Study Zone
E-Learning Zone
Refreshment Zone
Creative Media Zone
Open Study Zone

The facility took 2 years to plan and complete, led by the University Librarian and assisted by an Architect who worked closely with the Library Team.
The Learning Commons occupies 1800 square metres of space with approximately 500 seats.

In order to create the space, over 80,000 books and resources were moved into “off site” storage.

Group Study Zone

This compact area consists of 17 group study rooms of various sizes and an ideas corner.

The design of the space cleverly “loses” the columns that we find in many buildings and which can be difficult obstacles to include and adapt in designs.

Group study rooms 
Interactive, short throw projectors
Power and controls fitted in the tabletop
The ideas corner is a small open space where students can work with a touch screen PC or writing board, and unlike the study spaces, is not bookable.
It is also a quiet space to work away from the main study area.

Quiet study in the ideas corner
E-Learning Zone

This zone consists of three rooms.

One has a range of tables and large screens that groups of students can use on an ad hoc basic, but which can also be used by the Library staff for training purposes.  There is no lectern for the teacher/instructor but there is an input plate on the wall which allows connectivity with the large screens

Group study and training room
each table has access to a large screen
The other two rooms are IT Training rooms that double up as open access study spaces when not in use for training.  There is a fully sound proofed partition wall that can be opened to create a single training room.

Room 1  is set up with Pcs, and has a formal lectern for teaching

PC Training room/cluster 
Fixed lectern
 Room 2 is set up with MACs

Because the workstations are set up in groups, each room has multiple data projectors to ensure that all students can easily see the projected images

MAC training room/cluster
Multiple data projectors
Creative Media Zone

I am getting used to seeing media production studios with associated accommodation located within university Libraries, and here is no exception.

This small facility includes a fully equipped studio, AV control room, 4 AV Editing Suites a Graphics workshop and a service counter.

Students can produce work here and experienced library staff are on hand to provide assistance and support.

AV Control Room
Video Edit Suite
Graphics workshop with rear projection onto window
Refreshment Zone

This area has been set up behind a neat glass screen in order to ensure that food and drink does not spill out into the main area, and that the noisier activity in here does not disturb other students.

Refreshment Zone separated by glazed screen 
Comfy seating with display screen in the corner

Alternative seating area
Vending machines are provided for drinks and snacks

Open Study Zone

Running through the centre of the other zones is the open Study Zone.  This is an area providing tables with power for students to work individually and in groups.

Different groups exist with one area having round tables and task lighting provided by “mushroom towers

Group study area with round tables
View through the centre of the Learning Commons
 Awkward corners are brought into good use with the use of small individual seats

Chairs on wheels with writing tablets for laptops etc.

View towards the Media Zone
At the close of the library, the learning commons can be isolated from the main library by the closing of these and other doors located at the top of the staircase.  The lifts are also programmed to limit access to other areas

Access into main library study area
Evaluation of the space and facilities is now ongoing and it will be interesting to see how the space is used and how it influences the evolution of the Main Library generally.


  1. Toni. I remember see this building whilst I was in HK last November, but didnt realise at that time what it was. I agree views are fabulous along this stretech of the HK coastline, although the shark nets are a little off putting. What a place to study though, quite relaxing and i am guess even more fabulous when the sun is setting over the South China Sea with all the Junks sailing by?

  2. Ooooh, sounds delightful, but no-one mentioned the shark nets!!


  3. Hi Toni, great to see all these different types of study spaces especially with students insitu as this shows how they are being used with great success. Az

  4. Hi Az,

    Yes, definitely afternoon visits are much better than the early morning to get a proper feel for how the students are using the spaces. And these were certainly engaged!