Campus Trends Article in Albany Business Review

Mosaic Partner John Onderdonk’s article on Campus Design Trends appeared in the November 16 issue of the Albany Business Review. Read it below!

Campus Design Trends

Q: How is digital disruption showing up on college campuses? How are colleges responding? 

Today’s student has a lot of options. Some of the world’s best lectures are available on YouTube for free. This has caused colleges to rethink their role and seek to define what they offer to students that online learning can’t.

One answer to this question is the social interactions that happen on a college campus and the connections they create among students, faculty, researchers and alumni. This has always been an important part of the college experience, but is even more essential for the generation of digital natives who, having grown up with smart phones and tablets, are often more comfortable socializing online than in person.

In terms of design, this translates into creating spaces that foster interaction and connectedness—in the corridors, on the lawns, in the spaces in between. In academic buildings, this involves:

  • looking at the adjacencies of offices, classrooms, workrooms and lounges to find opportunities to encourage interaction;
  • creating inviting, informal gathering spaces with soft furniture; and
  • establishing sightlines and transparency so that these spaces will be used as intended.

Incorporating these features leads to greater involvement for students and engenders a real sense of belonging. The Science Center at Hudson Valley Community College is a great example of this, with a plan that encourages cross disciplinary interactions, wide open sightlines from floor to floor with the use of glass railings, and a new greenspace on campus that was created with the construction of the building.

Q:  What other advantages do colleges offer to students over online learning? 

The most important connection student seek out is the one that leads to a job after graduation. More and more, colleges are partnering with the business community to help make these connections and prepare their students for the jobs that are available in the workforce.

In terms of design, this translates into creating buildings that provide opportunities to engage with the local business community. This includes:

  • opening classrooms and learning labs up with windows where visitors can observe;
  • creating actual demonstration spaces where students, faculty or corporate partners can do presentations; and
  • creating spaces that will bring businesses to campus, like shared office space, conference facilities, and training or meeting spaces.

In these facilities, local business partners can interact with faculty and students. The Gene Haas Center for Advanced Manufacturing Skills currently under construction at Hudson Valley Community College is a great example of this trend. The Advanced Manufacturing Technology program it will house has a 100 percent job placement rate, with nearly all students securing work prior to graduation.

Q: How are classrooms changing in light of digital disruption?

Colleges and universities were among the first to embrace the world wide web. Many of the innovations that leverage technology to improve educational outcomes were developed on college campuses. For a long time these innovations fit within the existing walls of traditional academic buildings. However, an explosion of new learning modalities has led to the creation of a new breed of learning spaces, including incubators, maker spaces, technology-enabled classrooms, and project-based learning centers. These spaces are flexible and cross-disciplinary. Like so many other trends on campus today, they bring diverse groups together.

Maker spaces are a great example of this effect. The elements included in a maker space typically exist in disparate locations on campus. The maker space brings these different elements, like metal working, wood working, electronics shops, ceramics, printmaking, sculpting, painting and darkrooms together in a single place so that students can prototype and test their ideas. It is a place where people from different backgrounds, with different areas of expertise, come together and work together.

Q: How do colleges compete for students in this new environment? 

One obvious thing that college campuses have that is not available to online learners is the campus itself. The built environment, the signature buildings that showcase their strongest academic programs, are all part of a college’s brand. However, with the space constraints faced by most educational institutions, it is common for the most popular academic programs to be split up over time, with components spread around campus, wherever they will fit. As colleges realize the competitive advantage these programs offer in attracting students, they are investing in space planning studies and renovation or new construction projects to create spaces that will better house and showcase them.

One case in point, our work with SUNY Delhi to renovate Alumni Hall to house its award-winning Culinary Arts program. Currently housed in two buildings on campus, we just completed a feasibility study to explore the viability of renovating Alumni Hall to create a new space to showcase the program to prospective students. Proposed design concepts included windows into cooking labs, a new demonstration lab on the first floor and a student retail space in the lobby. The proposed design solution captures the current pedagogical thinking of the Culinary Arts program while modernizing the facilities, expanding applied learning opportunities, and increasing student capacity.

Q: What other ways do buildings contribute to the college’s brand?

Sustainability is a priority for every campus. Each new building that goes up on a campus has an enormous impact on the environment and makes a statement about the institution. Colleges want their buildings to reflect their values and those of the campus community. Concern for the environment is a strong shared value for incoming students, faculty, staff and administration. It is common practice among our clients for every new building and renovation on campus to be designed to meet at least Silver LEED Certification from the US Green Building Council (USGBC). The renovation of Sanford Hall at SUNY Delhi is a great example of this. The project received Silver LEED Certification from the USGBC. Some of the features contributing to certification included use of natural day-lighting, improved indoor air quality (IAQ), HVAC system efficiency, a high albedo roof to reduce heat island effect and cooling demand, and commissioning of all major systems.