Case Study: In-Between Spaces in Further Education

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In-between spaces can be defined as the places and spaces in an environment that do not comply with a formal spatial definition or purpose and have the potential to bring together;

“disparate activities and character in a manner that creates valuable exchanges and connections.”

Matthew Carmona, Urban Design Research

This case study focuses on the best uses and design of the more passive in-between type of space found in recently completed Further Education (FE) projects. The primary examples illustrated in this study are drawn from four Scottish Colleges that have completed projects in the last five years. Below are some extracts from the case study, the full report is available here. 

Key Learning Points

The following key learning points were identified as important to successful design of in-between spaces:

  • Though similar to a social learning spaces, in-between spaces act as a space for passive social learning where students can meet or gather away from quieter areas.
  • Innovative approaches to use of atrium spaces can be seen in cascading stairway seating, a ‘shopping mall’ approach to service distribution and informal learning opportunities
  • A successful in-between space can be shrunk or expanded for varying needs, to enrich student experience by hosting events, acting as a social space and supporting circulation through the institution.
  • Outdoor in-between spaces are often overlooked, but can enhance wellbeing, connecting people with nature and offering opportunitties for learning and socialising alike.
A view from above of the inbetween space by the stairway in an atrium at a campus in the City of Glasgow College.
A view from above of the atrium at the City Campus of the City of Glasgow College

Atrium & Circulation Spaces

Atrium’s are a useful architectural mechanism to help organise and connect, deliver light and space and provide a centre-place where students and visitors can orientate. However, beyond this, they have an even higher value in promoting a sense of community and potentially encouraging a degree of cross-disciplinary curiosity and discourse.

All of the projects feature atrium’s or large volume entrance foyers and most act as an informal social learning space. However, by their nature, these spaces are ‘in-between’, neither social, teaching or service space but a combination of all.

Inbetween space on a mezzanine atrium overlooking the ground floor reception of Ayrshire College Kilmarnock Campus
Inbetween space overlooking and atrium at Ayrshire College Kilmarnock Campus

The atrium in Ayrshire College (above) was conceived initially by the client as a ‘shopping mall’ for services. A familiar, easily understood place where students could develop their enterprise skills connect with employers, perform and meet one another.


The concept of flexibility or adaptability is a common theme in education environments. Most often, this concept relates to social learning spaces that can be easily adapted to suit a range of group sizes or activities at different times or even to allow students the opportunity to customise the area to their needs.

A photo of a view between floors as people walk up to a set of stairs. The flexible entrance area at Forth Valley College Falkirk Campus
The flexible entrance area at Forth Valley College Falkirk Campus

In the entrance space of Forth Valley College campus (above), flexible space is created using folding/relocatable doors forming; “a glazed wall that completely disappears — it all folds away” according to Mark Dawson.

This system can expand to provide the college with spaces of up to 620m2 for large scale events such as enrollment, exams or performances, or shrink to areas of 80m2 for teaching and learning. The result is a flexible, adaptable space that does not lie dormant for any part of the year.

Outdoor Spaces

Outdoor space can often be overlooked, especially in Scotland, where the weather is not ideal. However, visit any campus in the UK, and you will find people using the outdoor environment as a natural in-between space.

The landscape design at UHI, is an integral part of the overall campus concept. The landscape surrounding and leading up to the building incorporates a number of spaces designed to “encourage activities to spill out of the building, allowing the adoption of different teaching methods, enhancing well-being and connection to nature” according to Scott MacKenzie, project architect.

wooden panels spring out of the floor to create fancy benches at Inverness College University of the Highlands and Islands landscape encourages learning activities to ‘spill’ out of the building
Inverness College University of the Highlands and Islands outdoor landscaping

The award-winning open air space, ‘An t-Eilean’, (the Island) is the highlight of the outdoor landscape, and a true in-between space that can be used for a wide variety of activities from performances, exhibitions, events, meetings and simple, quiet contemplation.


There is a natural overlap between social learning spaces and In-between places. In-between spaces provide opportunities for a passive form of social learning which supports the more active places such as the refectory or learning resource areas where students can find a broad range of choices.

Atria and other large-volume spaces are multi-functioning in-between spaces where students can meet or gather and where performances can be hosted, events held, and in this sense, they are truly flexible spaces.

Further Information

About A&DS Case Studies

Our case studies series shows the benefits of good design in Scotland’s built environment. We highlight the processes behind our built environment as well as the finished result, to grow our collective understanding of good design practice. More of our case studies are available here. We want to grow this resource as much as we can. So if you have a question or comment about our Case Studies series, email us at

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