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Innovations in campus facilities usage

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Business people in office Administrators remember the simplicity of campus planning as recently as 10 years ago. The basic structure of a university’s physical needs was largely known — offices for administration and faculty, lecture rooms for classes, labs for hands-on learning and residence halls for housing. Parking garages, the library, the student center, and the like all had their place to fulfill functional needs. Any differentiation concerned design and aesthetics, while the basics of each of these buildings were similar. Buildings were built to last 75 years and be used for the same purpose for their entire functional lives.

Fast forward to 2018, when technology and the ability to connect and collaborate through digital learning and student experience platforms have become critical to a student’s educational experience. Colleges and universities have reacted in turn by using the basic physical footprint of the campus to incorporate technology that adapts to address the needs and wants of the learning community.

Reimagining at a rapid pace The focus of many new capital projects or planned future construction has been on incorporating innovative technology and equipment into campus facilities that enable peer-to-peer learning and development of social and academic connections locally and globally. How are leading institutions starting to reimagine what their campus footprint will look like 5–10 years from now, and what steps are they taking today to put them on a path to achieve that vision? As student expectations of the educational model and living environment continue to change, institutions are learning to adapt at a rapid pace. The focus of many new capital projects or planned future construction has been on incorporating innovative technology and equipment into campus facilities that enable peer-to-peer learning and development of social and academic connections locally and globally. Examples of trends in university environments include:

  1. DESIGNING MULTIPURPOSE TECH SPACE Technology white For example, consider the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute at the University of Utah, whose “hangar” houses a 3D printer lab, workshop space, meeting rooms, classroom space, event space and business center all within proximity to each other to facilitate all phases of the student’s needs for developing new products or ideas. Additionally, the institute houses residential facilities in the same building that are structured by theme (e.g., a games and digital media floor) and have common areas that provide collaborative space based on that theme.
    Constructing new environments, the design of which fosters multidisciplinary collaboration to encourage creative generation of new ideas and not just classroom learning of traditional educational topics. Often labeled as innovation hubs or incubators, these facilities also typically focus on entrepreneurship. Joseph C. Tsai, whose foundation provided the gift for Yale University’s new innovation center, summed up the concept, “For me, it is especially vital that young people in the world today gain comfort with taking risks — with framing the problem, thinking in an interdisciplinary way, and trying ‘out-of-the-box’ approaches.”

    Due to the varied nature of these spaces, design is often flexible (e.g., a multiuse technology lab space mixed with office space) to meet the varying needs of the students and the nature of the collaborative project or class.

  2. Equipping many learning spaces as “smart environments” with cutting-edge technology that is being used with new education learning techniques and in connection with research already being performed on campus. This technology includes 3D printers, virtual simulation equipment and high-speed, high-capacity processing capabilities to be used with big data. One such example of facility technology investment is Stanford University’s 2016 opening of a Neurosurgical Simulation and Virtual Reality Center, which uses patient-specific, 3D virtual reality technology across their clinics and classrooms. Instructors educate on surgical techniques for certain procedures, like removal of a brain tumor. Through the technology, they can highlight areas to avoid during surgery as rendered in a 3D virtual simulation, which could previously be conceptualized only in 2D.

  3. Following the more modern business models championed by services like Airbnb for using excess capacity in multifunctional ways. Many institutions are switching to virtual mailboxes, whereby students receive a notification email and PIN when mail or a package is delivered and must pick it up from a specific mailbox within 48 hours. This leads to a smaller footprint and fewer resources necessary to manage the mail room, even though online shopping by students has grown exponentially.

    Similar concepts may be used in the future for campus parking. As ride services Uber, Zipcar and Lyft have gained in popularity, along with such emerging concepts as autonomous vehicles, universities are rethinking their parking space needs and considering more pickup/drop-off points, potentially fewer permanent parking spaces, and parking lot designs that can be retrofitted for other purposes if demand were to decrease.

    Similarly, campus libraries are being designed to use excess capacity to house multimedia labs, bioinformatics labs, group study rooms and digital archives of videos that act as natural complements to the study and research taking place in the library.

  4. Finding creative ways to repurpose unused campus space by partnering with other entities to provide financial benefit in line with campus culture and mission. For example, Arizona State University is part of a joint venture that is creating Mirabella, a retirement community for alumni, faculty and staff, as well as the general public. Mirabella residents will have access to classes at the university, as well as to the artistic, athletic and social activities and services associated with a college campus.

The pace of change is accelerating for varying physical and technological campus demands. Colleges and universities of every size need to learn to adapt. Cognizant of trends, they are investing where they can in state-of-the-art facilities and equipment, remaining flexible with campus planning and construction designs to ensure competitiveness now and for the future.


Contacts Brian Page
Partner, Audit Services, Not-for-Profit and Higher Education Practices
T: +1 215 701 8860