Five New Ideas in Education, Tech Radically Reshape University Spaces

FEWER WIRES, CLEANER POWER. In years past, colleges were installing more hardwired data outlets, but today the physical plant is shifting to seamless wireless in all spaces so students can stay connected while moving from residence halls to labs to common areas to collaboration zones. Many of the classrooms use flexible, movable furnishings that can benefit from arrays of electrical floor boxes for power. The watchword is access, so professors and students can easily adapt to shifting curricular and pedagogical needs.

At Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper Quad project, for example, this hub for technology-enhanced learning and research employs efficient voided biaxial concrete slabs—sometimes called “bubble decks”— supporting loft-style MEP systems and integrating varied MEP and ICT services in their ceiling voids. The solution, which is new in the U.S., can reduce floor-to-floor dimensions and total building heights.

At the RIDC Mill 19 project the design solution encourages connection with the outdoors by drawing daylight and fresh air into the building wherever possible.
At the RIDC Mill 19 project the design solution encourages connection with the outdoors by drawing daylight and fresh air into the building wherever possible.

MOBILE AND FLEXIBLE. In addition to rolling furniture and modular physical plants, new education technologies enable nontraditional approaches to scheduling and occupancy. Meeting rooms, for example, may be scheduled online with automated access controls tied to their building management system for lighting and HVAC. Most universities prefer to include occupant overrides so users may personalize their room temperature, illumination levels and the like. Robust acoustic separations help make meeting rooms and larger collaborative learning spaces more private and less intrusive, benefiting the rest of the academic community.

THINK HEALTHY AND GREEN. Essential to these novel learning environments is a commitment to quality of life, wellbeing and green principles. Although the sustainability and wellness disciplines may not directly impact the instructional ICT deliverables, they still add substantial value by making academic buildings and innovation centers more attractive, resilient and lasting. For example, many buildings with chilled-water systems can choose to power down for the entire heating season and rely on individual split systems. The ductless equipment can also be matched with emergency power installations that are smaller and less costly than equivalent backup power needed for the entire central plant.

Wellbeing and green building are intimately related and undergird student success. At the RIDC Mill 19 project, housing Carnegie Mellon’s Manufacturing Futures Initiative—and targeting LEED v4 Gold certification—the design solution encourages connection with the outdoors by drawing daylight and fresh air into the building wherever possible. To ensure occupant comfort, the building has operable windows and sunlight glare-reduction measures, such as internal blinds, fritted glass and louvers. Biophilic strategies include multiple planted terraces throughout the building, along with internal landscaping.

For campus architects, planners and their building project teams, the question is, as new instructional technologies and online learning upend university academics, how should classrooms, labs and common areas change in response? The answer is to study the new models of instruction and look at the needs of these new educational platforms—without losing sight of the big picture of community and climate. The resulting facilities reveal emerging ideas and powerful catalysts for change in higher education, including transformational design approaches and lessons for future academic and instructional designs.

PHOTO: ALBERT VECERKA/ESTO, COURTESY BUROHAPPOLD

About the Author

John Rozeluk and Mo Black
John Rozeluk (left), P.E., LEED AP, is an associate principal at BuroHappold with extensive experience in high-performance building systems engineering design. Mo Black, BSC, MSC, is an associate principal and expert ICT, audiovisual and security consultant at BuroHappold. Both work nationally from their offices in Los Angeles.

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