In recent years, academic facilities and campus social spaces have radically mutated to reflect modern instructional needs and the tug of educational technology. Instead of seeing higher education moving to an entirely online experience, schools are finding that the campus itself matters more than ever before. In the process, classrooms and academic buildings are becoming unrecognizable.
Two trends inform and shape this trend: First, schools are investing more in student success, focused on boosting student engagement—and graduation and retention rates. Second, learning environments are becoming more active, project-based and integrated with the professional community. Traditional lectures and stand-and-deliver teaching are yielding to flipped instruction and more distance learning integrated into curriculums. Many courses are designed “to bridge the gap between education and enterprise,” as one university dean explained.
Examples include Carnegie Mellon University’s Mill 19 complex, developed by Regional Industrial Development Corp. (RIDC) and occupied by Carnegie Mellon University’s Manufacturing Futures Initiative, Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Institute and other technology companies. At Arizona State University, the Thunderbird School of Global Management is integrating distance learning with classrooms, meeting spaces, and offices in its modern, new facility to support graduate degree programs, executive education and the broader Phoenix community’s top businesses.
These new environments are highly dynamic and embracing. A few key considerations jump out:
ICT IMPACTS. The most radical changes for university facilities extend from the new information and communications technology (ICT) in use today. More college courses require interactive distance tools, which are bandwidth-intensive and need flawless web connectivity. Often resembling conference rooms rather than classrooms, these settings benefit from dedicated voice/video/content systems and digital monitors alongside typical projections, microphones and video cameras. The smart, video-based setups are supported by sound bar systems, IP-based phones and even virtual reality software to fully enhance the learning experience. Collaboration and process management tools, such as HTC Vive, provide immersive experiences for student deliverables.
Unlike typical portal or video lecture approaches, these tools for university learning support interactive, collaborative discussions bridging distance and varied media, including social media. Some rooms have dozens of microphones and several cameras to allow sharing of projects and coursework in real time. Increasingly, remote students and guest lecturers dial in via Skype or GoTo and access cloud-based meeting services—just a screen and a webcam connect them to the class—while local students use cloud-linked speakerphones.
MEP NEEDS. All this technology adds heat within campus buildings new and old. It also creates acoustical challenges that project teams need to mitigate. At the extreme end, server racks present highly sensitive equipment that can be impacted by slight temperature shifts of just a few degrees. These may need dedicated air-conditioning systems and spot cooling, and universities will choose to put some on dedicated uninterruptible power supply backups. Ductless split systems often work well for small audiovisual closets and server rooms, supplementing the central chilled-water plant.
By design, these academic buildings are more permeable than ever with more breakout spaces and informal meeting areas, as well as large, “active learning zones,” such as innovation labs with moveable furnishings, temporary partitions, cluster decks and flexible learning tools. Often it helps to employ underfloor plenums for both HVAC delivery and other MEP and ICT access points, introducing conditioned air low and close to occupant study areas. Many spaces resemble industrial lofts with open ceilings and plentiful duct runs and drop-down MEP points.
PHOTOS: ALBERT VECERKA/ESTO, COURTESY BUROHAPPOLD