As universities and colleges are changing their approach to planning their campus facilities, the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) Boston Panel Discussion “Knowledge is Power: Higher Ed Trends & Projects” on January 28 could not have come at a better time. The morning event featured four panelists from Boston-area institutions including:

  • Janet Chrisos, Deputy Director at the Massachusetts State College Building Authority
  • Jean Robinson, Director of Capital Projects, UMass Lowell
  • Lois Stanley, Director of Campus Planning, Tufts University
  • Dennis Swinford, Director of Capital Planning, MIT

All shared a common theme: top buildings attract students and faculty, and some are using capital projects as a recruiting tool for new faculty. The other point of agreement was that every institution is interested in building their campus in a way that allows facilities to work together. Universities are not just about one building at a time, as Dennis Swinford described MIT, “we are building a campus.” Here are some of the trends identified at the event:

Flexible /Collaborative Spaces
The call for flexible, collaborative spaces continues as universities recognize the value of applied, hands-on learning in line with teaching pedagogy. They see an increased demand for maker spaces alongside formal learning areas and residential facilities. Ultimately, the 21st century classroom is a space that best facilitates capturing content for learning. One strategy described was breaking down the silos of technology services, facilities (who are often responsible for selecting furniture), professors, and designers to work together to ensure flexibility today and tomorrow.

Open Spaces for Studying
Universities are seeing an increased demand for informal learning spaces that facilitate gathering outside of scheduled classroom time. These are often open spaces providing both group and independent study opportunities. These spaces can be added throughout residential facilities and within specific departments. This reduces the need for more formal meeting spaces and creates learning activities throughout the campus.

Campus Personality and Evolving Student Needs
Each panelist spoke about how their campuses have unique personalities, even amongst larger institutions with multiple locations. The balance between a common identity and geographic character will always been an ongoing dialogue, and many are using strategies such as art-making, a collaborative connection between arts and humanities departments, and capital planning to create new interpretations of campus identities. In addition to changing the face of a campus, students are demanding campus facilities that align with changing societal sensitivities, such as gender-neutral restrooms. All panelists agreed that incorporating student and faculty input in the design review of new facilities leads to a better campus.

Living/Learning Communities
At UMass Lowell, the success of living/learning communities, where students live in facilities that also include dedicated learning spaces and other residential amenities, has led to increases in GPA, retention, and graduation rates for students living in these communities. Other universities are seeing similar benefits to these close-knit, student-centered living arrangements.

The Aging Campus—Renovate or Build?
The question of whether to renovate an existing building or replace it with a new one is always on campus planners’ minds. Lois Stanley of Tufts spoke about how it is always preferable to renovate if possible, but certain needs and initiatives require new ground-up facilities. Design can provide value in how to find ways to repurpose older buildings and transform their role in a campus, especially as many have aging buildings in need of restoration or repair. All panelists spoke about the need to create value in thinking about long-term investments in facilities.

Innovation for the Future
Universities and colleges are in the business of learning, and as a result are also interested in trying out new innovative solutions in the configuration of their spaces, the design of new buildings, and programming their campuses to provide the best experience possible. As one panelist stated, they are always interested in innovation, even at a small scale. At the end of the event, there was a feeling that there is a lot of good work to be done and that the importance of a physical campus for these institutions will always be of value. The challenge for us as architects and designers will continue to be how to engage the community of students, faculty, and staff in the process of innovating.

Topics: Planning, Events, Institutional