The first major project I was tasked with upon arriving at Davidson College in 2007 was the creation of a media lab. The configuration of the lab was a workbench style table lining the perimeter of a windowless basement room in the main education building on campus. There were four Macintosh pro tower computers, with a cart that had a digital tape deck on it. The idea that the students could roll the cart from computer to computer in order to capture their content from the tape based workflow they used at the time.
My immediate task was to re-envision this uninviting environment into a space that would not only facilitate the growing need for media production on campus but also be something that didn’t inhibit creativity. My ultimate goal was to create a community space. Being in a windowless basement in a part of campus seldomly visited by students, this was a tall order.
I began by looking at other peer institutions. Speaking on the phone with my counterparts and getting a feel for what was working and not working for them. While my initial was to wall off the area into edit bays, I found from my research that a more open plan was being widely deployed in other schools. I wasn’t fully sold on the idea but did see the value in collaborative work areas. My compromise was more cubicle style with one workstation isolated, two in a shared cubicle and three more in a open collaborative layout. I felt this compromise allowed for individual work and group work.
Finally I had a screening area designed for project viewing on a large cinema grade projection system with surround sound. Moveable chairs with swing away desks were also placed to give multifuncion use. This screening space also served as a platform for the video game course taught through the music department.
I met with several design firms and finally settled on one that really took my idea and we built the Davidson College Media Lab over winter break in December of 2007 and January 2008. We opened for business for the spring semester of 2008.
We typically would facilitate on average three production courses a semester with approximately fifty users over six workstations. Word spread quickly and we quickly had to limit access to the space due to the workload. Policy was put into effect in the fall of 2008, limited the use to academic course work only.
The space remained unchanged with minor upgrades over the course of the next ten years. The design proved effect and our numbers increased every year. In 2018, we made the decision to renovate the lab once again. The lab gave way to the virtual reality lab that was coming off the ground. Luckily we were able to relocate to our video green screen studio down the hall. The green screen space was part of an open online course project we launched in 2014. With the project outsourced, the space was seeing light traffic.
So in the winter break of 2017, ten years to the day, we shut down the media lab in its current location and moved to the green screen space. The design concepts from the old lab were minimized to allow more space for pre and post production to take place in the same room. With a green screen wall occupying one side of the room, we did some minor renovations, added some work benches and relaunched the lab in January of 2018.
The media lab remains one of my proudest accomplishments at Davidson College. Not only has it been rewarding both in creating a space that sees so much use, it has been rewarding seeing the creations the students at Davidson College have dreamt up here and knowing that I’ve played a major role in that creative process.