March 07, 2017
Trends: Higher Education and Campus Design

IAA has partnered with higher education clients for nearly three decades. Over that time, it has been fascinating to see the many influences shaping the evolving nature of campus architecture, design and construction. Higher education campuses have always served as cultural intersections facilitating personal growth, discovery and maturation via a number of tangible – and intangible – avenues. Today, they continue to do so, but in increasingly individualized ways.

In the 21st century, the approach to a college education is a holistic one, extending far beyond the classroom and fostering a remarkable transformation across university campuses. As technology continues to permeate virtually every aspect of modern life, colleges and universities are reinventing themselves in order to compete with one another, as well as neighboring businesses. In the classroom, schools are incorporating technology features and support infrastructure making the exchange of ideas easy and fluid. Throughout the rest of campus, market-relevant amenities, even luxuries, are being introduced to provide all the comforts – and then some – of home. We foresee some exciting trends in the year ahead, some of which are outlined below.

1: Interdisciplinary, hands-on workspaces

There is an increasing demand for interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary spaces supporting hands-on experience. Colleges and universities are incorporating real-world simulation exercises into academic programs, and in many instances, that means collaborating with different disciplines to explore topics and realize goals. Practical knowledge and skills like problem-solving, adaptability, business-context communication and analysis are difficult to develop through traditional lectures. The built environment is reflecting this new awareness as schools are rethinking how to best utilize resources.

New and re-imagined spaces are providing students, faculty and staff the opportunity to work together on multi-disciplinary teams to share knowledge and expertise in order to collaborate on an idea from conception through completion. These technical spaces are becoming less specialized and constrictive and more conducive to collaborative, interdisciplinary instruction relying on a range of techniques to impart knowledge and skills. Additionally, resource-rich workspaces like these help brick-and-mortar schools effectively compete with online programs, which although may be technologically-enhanced, lack face-to-face contact, socialization and team building.

2: Adaptability and Flexibility

Although hands-on experience might be more difficult to achieve in larger lectures, the fast-paced evolution of technology is still influencing teaching methods there as well. Instructors are adapting lessons and taking advantage of new resources. Gone are the days of rigid, stagnant lecture halls. Today, schools are largely choosing task chairs and sometimes mobile worktables in order to instantly shift layouts and convert from formal lectures to small group break-out sessions to team exercises and more. Where task chairs and mobile tables are unrealistic, many schools are adopting a double-tier layout, where two rows of seats are included in each tier. Here, completely stationary chairs are being replaced with swivel chairs so that students on each tier can shift away from instructor and to their neighboring peers for small group exercises. Lastly, many schools are incorporating special furnishings that support a range of instructional formats – connected computers and screens, acoustical panels, motorized window shades, and more – allowing instructors to rely on a range of activities to engage with students.

3: Going Green

Sustainable design choices are not only responsible options, but in the long-term, economical ones as well. For these reasons, it is becoming exceedingly common for schools to incorporate smart design solutions into new facilities. Drinking fountains with sensors help to conserve water, smart lights shut off when no one is in the room, recycled elements in renovation projects keep costs down and preserve campus history and culture, smart outlets turn off when electronics are fully charged, community gardens encourage students to work with their neighbors to produce healthy food options and enhance the local environment.

4: Community Building

Not long ago, many schools were opting for new student housing options that resembled apartment living – private suites with their own restrooms and living areas wherein students could go days without interacting with neighbors. Schools quickly realized that this had detrimental effects on many young college students however. Moving away from home for the first time is difficult in itself, but when students are hardly encouraged to interact with neighbors and participate in community activities, it can be particularly trying and isolating. Recently, schools have begun reverting back to more community-focused residence halls with lounges, floor kitchenettes, and group study spaces where residents are provided a range of tools and facilities to hangout, study and socialize with one another. More traditional two- and three-bed layouts are also being selected along with community restrooms where students interact and live as a more tightly-knit community. Outdoor spaces like courtyards, ampitheatres and bike paths are helping to connect students, as well while at the same time providing them with outdoor amenities to participate in group activities.

5: Customized Amenities

In a world where so much is at a student’s fingertips, customization and market-relevant options are becoming necessities for college campuses. Students no longer settle for “cafeteria food.” They expect more, and schools are adapting. Diverse and specialized dining options are showing up more and more on school campuses, in part to meet dietary needs, but also to entice students and gain their business. Options like 24-hour cafes, grab-and-go counters, artisan coffee bars, juice shops, and other specialized dining options are becoming more common as students expect more out of their campuses.