Future-Proofing Furniture

Collaborative and flexible spaces have been taking over in education. While some spaces on the college campus remain in traditional fixed-seating lecture halls, informal and formal learning spaces are trending towards movable, mobile furniture to support different modes of education.

Walter Spellman, national sales manager at VS America, notes that while technology is rapidly changing, furniture can’t move at that pace. “It’s a finished good, so you know you have to go through the designing and engineering of a particular product, then you have to go through testing … So I think today that a lot of manufacturers are waiting to see what the next great thing is going to be.”

When you’re looking for furniture, buying for a specific piece of technology will certainly limit your options in the future. “To some degree the specialized furniture as we see it is really being reduced to a kind of area where a student can sit, use their device, and also perhaps write and take notes,” Spellman says.

Nonconventional spaces on campus, no matter the subject matter, need to focus more on power than the actual pieces of furniture. Previous iterations on campus saw CRT monitors under glass in libraries or computers sequestered to labs. Now, students take their devices with them everywhere, and also need to charge their smartphones or iPads wherever they are too.

“A wireless environment helps deal with the connectivity issue, but the power issue is the primary issue that people still have to deal with, and so when you think about the integration of furniture into those environments, most of the devices for the foreseeable future are using USB or 10-volt technology,” states Bill Latham, CEO for Contrax Furnishings LLC. We may not know what the devices of the future are going to be, or what students are going to bring with them, but they are going to need power.

“Integrating that into something like a soft seating concept — we see couches and soft seating themselves have power integrated, and then in the classroom you have a lot more plug and play mobile furniture,” explains Latham. “The gist is that whether I’m in an informal learning space or formal learning space, the power is the same.”

So, while technology will continue to change and furnishings and furniture reflects that in the continued use of flexible learning environments, properly providing power in whatever learning spaces students are using will help future-proof learning spaces for whatever is coming next.

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