Posted by Heidi Schwartz
Trends in higher education are leading a transformation of buildings and interiors on college campuses, says Melanie Conant, NCIDQ, Director of Interior Design for the Boston, MA-based firm The Architectural Team. Some of the changes reflect fundamental shifts in university level education, while others are shaped by technology or the distinct lifestyle preferences of millennial students. Often the solutions are simple: use furniture to respond better to today’s campus dynamic.
Some of the changes reflect fundamental shifts in university level education, while others are shaped by technology or the distinct lifestyle preferences of millennial students.
University officials increasingly value collaboration, “informal learning,” and ways to spruce up classrooms and common areas while keeping costs low. “Often the solution is to create new spaces in existing buildings,” says Conant, “using creative approaches with furnishings, lighting, and other relatively inexpensive approaches.”
The Architectural Team’s expertise in adaptive reuse of older buildings has led to a few valuable recommendations for university administrators and facilities teams:
1. The workplace crossover. More and more, higher education interiors are starting to resemble new corporate workplaces. The corporate world has embraced the open plan office, for instance, and Conant now sees that happening on college campuses.
SOLUTIONS: Conant recommends that underused private faculty offices be converted to meeting and conference rooms with shared workspaces and desks available. Today’s less formal workplaces also use “breakout spaces” with small furniture groupings—some of them grouped around an interactive screen—as well as lounge-type seating with electricity and data plug-ins. Conant also recommends moveable furniture, which students can adjust themselves and adapt to suit the moment’s need.
2. Capturing open space, indoors. Big open spaces can actually help students focus, especially when they are designed to be filled with natural daylight.
SOLUTION: “The healthiest kind of illumination is daylight,” says Conant, “which helps students stay alert and feel part of an active environment.” Another advantage of open space is flexibility: colleges can use modular, partition-type walls that move like furniture and furniture on casters, allowing students to open spaces easily for club meetings, parties, a movie, a music or theater performance, or a reading or guest lecture.
3. Reinforcing community on campus. Feeling like a part of a community can actually improve student performance as well as retention rates, recent research has shown. Well designed and inspired spaces can help to create this atmosphere.
SOLUTION: Community can be expressed in many ways. Apart from the informal gathering spaces, comfortable furniture and daylight already mentioned, providing ease of access to shared resources can reinforce a positive group dynamic. Spaces that convey a sense of security help too, by making students feel safer among their peers. And a sense of community integration can perhaps be fully expressed through creative means; for instance, large scale locally produced artwork can express shared community ideals or tenets.