Building With Purpose

As the children of the baby boomers come of age over the next 20 years, higher education in the United States faces the prospect of sustained market growth. Demographics, combined with a strong economy, have set the stage for the expansion and redevelopment of campuses across the nation.

In today's dynamic environment, institutions must distinguish themselves by keeping pace with changes in technology and society. The economy's rapid evolution creates a situation where lifelong learning is an accepted norm, and this reality places a new set of demands on those who design facilities.

High Technology In educational facilities of the future, computer technology will change the learning experience significantly. This will drive infrastructure costs up, but at the same time offer access to more people and facilitate resource-sharing between institutions. Ultimately, the widespread availability of technology will provide economies of scale both to institutions and the students they serve.

Many universities already are offering students access to lecture series and special events through distance-learning centers. These facilities involve significant adjustments to the traditional lecture hall. To view presentation screens and use portable computers, students require both appropriate ambient lighting and acoustics.

Real-time interaction between remote speakers and a live audience necessitates setting up cameras and microphones. Increasingly, designers are implementing spotlighting to accommodate the programming complexities of two-way video communication systems on a large scale. Distance-learning centers also offer nontraditional students the flexibility to tune into lectures from remote locations.

Personal computers are now required equipment at most universities. This impacts facility design as access to network resources must be integrated into libraries, residence halls, laboratories, cafeterias and other public spaces. The affordability of personal computers combined with their widespread use will create a demand for ergonomic work spaces and service stations that are fully integrated into the university environment.

Corporate World as Model At the same time that advances in technology are leading to specialized facilities, university administrators are applying concepts of spatial flexibility and team cooperation derived from the business world. Designers are implementing open plans and specifying systems furniture for all types of educational buildings to allow for adaptability. As institutions encourage group learning, multipurpose meeting areas that can be reserved in the same manner as corporate conference rooms are gaining in popularity.

Prominent business leaders, who serve on the boards of many colleges and universities, influence major building programs toward the criteria of efficiency, flexibility and fiscal responsibility. Educational administrators are realizing that not having a particular facility can translate into significant losses both in terms of students and revenue.

The dominance of design-build contractual agreements in the private sector also is changing facility planning in higher education. In keeping with overall industry trends, project schedules are more compressed, and the design professional's ability to quickly understand the client's needs becomes critical.

Design as Balance Educational facilities of the future will not only reflect advances associated with technology, but also will counterbalance some of the sociological fallout. In response to the need for human sensitivity, architects and interior designers are creating environments that are stimulating and easy to navigate. This approach to design requires an understanding of how to orchestrate a distinctive sensory experience through the manipulation of color, texture, light and volume.

Wayfinding involves coordinating these basic elements to guide movement through space. Large educational facilities can be broken down into more human-scale environments through thoughtful design. Lightwells and other natural accents encourage intuitive use of a building by drawing attention to nodes of transition, such as elevator cores and information kiosks.

In general, educational facilities of the future will be designed to capture and hold the user's attention. Like websites, this will mean an increased emphasis on building a framework that allows versatility or change in "content," while forging a strong sense of community identity. In this context, more design consideration needs to be taken to achieve an environment that inspires people and creates a sense of belonging.

Contextual Sensitivity/Responsibility As campuses reach saturation in terms of land use, contextual sensitivity becomes a major concern for administrators. In response, architects and urban planners are devoting attention to how the educational environment relates to the surrounding community. In addition, there is a renewed interest in planning the space around and between buildings. Rapid technological changes within society are actually reinforcing the importance of designing venues dedicated to human interaction.

Increasingly, university administrators are placing an emphasis on design that recognizes human beings as creatures requiring a physical connection to light and landscape. Designers and architects consider the CRI (Color Rendition Index) rating of lighting fixtures to approximate natural conditions. Efficient integration of daylight into the built environment promotes physical and psychological well being in educational communities.

Another important aspect of contextual sensitivity involves the actual construction materials that architects and designers specify. Green products are now available which are easy to maintain, durable, recyclable and economical. These range from bio-fiber board to low-VOC (volatile organic compound) paints.

Across the nation educational institutions are investing in sustainable design that makes people feel better and function at an optimal level. This trend will intensify as natural resources become scarce in the 21st century.

Design-build is a construction method where design and construction are single-sourced. There is one point of responsibility and liability. The contractor's partnership with the architect allows value engineering to be implemented throughout the design process. Design-build is most appropriate for projects where the scope is well-defined and an aggressive schedule is necessary. With this method, time constraints and budget restrictions can limit client involvement.

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