Echo Boom Impact

Nov. 1, 2006
Five ways that designs are changing to meet the needs of the next generation.

Like their baby-boomer parents, the echo-boom generation is reshaping the college and university landscape. At 80 million strong, this group of children and young adults born between 1980 and 1995 now is flooding the college and university system, spurring a college building boom.

According to Campus Space Crunch, a Hillier Architecture survey of 200 of the nation's top colleges and universities, 40 percent of them recently have completed residential or classroom facilities to accommodate growth.

However, that growth won't last forever. The National Center for Education Statistics predicts that college student enrollment will peak around 2013 at about 18 million students. So with funding in short supply and an enrollment drop on the horizon, are schools building what's right for the future?

Five ways schools can “grow smart” to be successful long after the echo boomers have finished their studies:

  1. My space vs. our space

    Today's students expect a lot of personal space. At the same time, colleges and universities are putting greater emphasis on teamwork and cooperation, and see it as their mission to create a sense of community on their campuses — something that is at the heart of the college experience. As a result, schools are building apartment-like residence halls that give students greater privacy, as well as buildings, classrooms and “in-between” spaces designed to foster teamwork.

    Rockoff Hall University Apartments at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., gives students the option of choosing double- or single-bedroom apartments and offers amenities such as ground-floor retail, a fitness center, outdoor plaza and parking garage.

    On the academic side, classrooms are becoming increasingly flexible and accommodating to small and large groups. Schools also recognize the importance of offering areas for impromptu student gathering and discussion.

    At Goucher College in Baltimore, the Athenaeum — a 103,000-square-foot, four-story building set to open in 2009 — takes collaboration further. Set between residential and academic areas, the Athenaeum combines a library with an open forum area, cafe and art gallery, as well as room for student groups, exercise, conversation and quiet reflection or relaxation. It creates a communal environment where interaction is inevitable.

    “In ancient Greece, people went to one central gathering place — the Athenaeum — for cultural, intellectual and social purposes, and we recognized a need for that same experience,” says Sanford Ungar, president of Goucher.

  2. The 24/7 campus

    Echo boomers work and socialize around the clock.

    “Today's students are less bound to the old-fashioned notions of what they have to do and when to do it,” says Ungar. “They have a different time clock and are staying up later at night.”

    This shift to a 24-hour environment is affecting the design of everything from libraries to residence halls. Spaces are becoming multifunctional, with 24/7 secure access to cafes, technology and more. At schools such as Goucher and the University of Louisville, the traditional library has become a place where students work, collaborate, nap, eat and socialize.

    “The library should be a place where you feel comfortable enough to fall asleep, wake up, get a cup of coffee or tea and resume studying at any time,” says Ungar.

    The University of Louisville's expanded Ekstrom Library has a robotic book-retrieval system that enables the library to condense storage of up to 1.2 million volumes. That frees up room for information-competency classrooms and comfortable new places for students to use wireless connections, flexible seating and a cafe.

  3. Specialized intentions

    Students are coming to college with a specific academic focus in mind and could find themselves pigeonholed in one environment.

    The challenge for schools is to allow specialization while letting students retain a broader connection to the campus community. To make this happen, colleges are clustering buildings to create academic and social “neighborhoods” that foster a sense of greater community. A building may be placed at a campus crossroads so that students will pass through a building they otherwise might not enter. “Mega-centers” — stadiums, arenas and other large venues — are able to bring the entire student body together.

    Students at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond are exposed to different majors and departments by having to walk through a variety of buildings to get to their destinations. Engineering students, for example, pass through the School of Business to get where they need to go. And at California State University — Fresno, the Save-Mart Center — a giant entertainment venue developed as part of a mixed-use retail district next to campus — brings the campus community and larger neighborhood together.

    “It's a place where we can hold major events — Cirque Du Soleil, the Rolling Stones — and the entire campus and surrounding community can come together,” says Mark Aydelotte, assistant vice president for university relations at CSU — Fresno.

  4. The greening of campuses

    The echo-boom generation is driving the sustainability movement. They've grown up with recycling, alternative energy and global warming, so they're sensitive to the issues.

    In response, schools are “greening” their campuses, building with sustainability in mind and going for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification through the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).

    Duke University in Durham, N.C., requires all new buildings to be LEED- certified and has sought to incorporate green practices in nearly all areas of university life. Duke's curriculum, purchasing plan, dining halls, transportation options, and waste, water and land-management plans all strive to be environmentally friendly.

    Buildings such as the recently completed Medical Science Research Building — II, a 160,000-square-foot laboratory facility, employ many sustainable features.

    At Goucher, students are “the most avid environmentalists on campus,” says Ungar. “They are way ahead of the rest of us. They designed our recycling program and have just launched a composting program and community herb garden whose crops they sell to the campus food service. They have pushed us to use sustainable-design principles as much as possible in designing and building the Athenaeum.”

  5. New era in student health

    Gone are the days of the infirmary and school nurse. A college health center must address many issues — everything from physical fitness and mental health, to alcoholism and smoking cessation. Schools recognize that focusing on overall wellness not only is connected to student retention and academics, but also essential for students to develop habits that will reverse the growing occurrences of obesity and Type-2 diabetes.

More schools are situating student health centers in places of prominence on campus. The new 60,000-square-foot student health center at Pennsylvania State University in University Park will be situated at a crossroads of the school's residential, academic and athletic cores.

“It will be a building that students will want to check out even when they're not sick,” says Spear, director of health services at Penn State.

Similarly, the University of Arkansas has placed the Pat Walker Health Center, a 36,000-square-foot facility, at one of the highest traffic areas of its Fayetteville campus.

“It makes a statement that the university cares about the well-being of its students and that we offer the very best treatment, care and resources that we can,” says Mary Alice Serafini, director of the center.

The student population will evolve as demographic shifts change the type and number of students seeking a higher education. By creating and maintaining a strategic academic plan and tying it to the facilities master plan, institutions can monitor these flexes and bends, and create facilities that anticipate new needs and stay current for years to come.

Dordai, AIA, LEED AP, is managing principal of Hillier Architecture's education studio, Princeton, N.J. Rizzo, AIA, ALA, is a principal at Hillier and a recognized expert on libraries.



The estimated year that college student enrollment will peak — at 18 million students.
Source: National Center for Education Statistics

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