How Higher Education is Approaching Building Utilization Differently
The post-pandemic world of higher education has shifted institution’s priorities in appealing to current higher education students. Effects from COVID-19 and social distancing, technology advances, and updated teaching and learning styles have changed the landscape. More than 25% of students are choosing online courses, one-fifth of students enrolled are over the age of 30, and students are balancing part-time class loads with jobs and other responsibilities.
To meet the needs of today’s students, colleges and universities are getting creative with repurposed square footage and building new kinds of facilities. Existing student gathering spaces, like an on-campus library, can adapt to engage students with new ways of learning by transforming underutilized spaces for book collections and lecture-style seating into digital learning hubs with augmented and virtual-reality labs. Computer labs can be converted into individual content spaces or repurposed into larger, flexible active classrooms for in-person instruction, small group breakouts, and informal social gatherings. New diversity, equity and inclusion spaces along with collocated student service buildings are taking shape across the nation as priorities on inclusion and mental health have shifted. Grand Rapids Community College recently adapted a portion of a shuttered mall into a thriving and modern campus that consolidated dispersed programs on the West Michigan Lakeshore.
What does a future space look like that accommodates multiple learning styles and how can higher education campuses strike the right balance between creating purposeful student experiences while still concentrating on exceptional higher education? Academic spaces that are designed with program curriculum, multidisciplinary learning experiences, or project-based learning in mind offer a glimpse into the future of the higher education experience. The recently completed Calvin University School of Business facility is putting these new, multidisciplinary ideas into practice. Attached to the existing DeVos Communication Center, each building has its own identity and entrance, but also shares a central hub that creates a common culture and meeting place on campus. Drawing on the idea of deepening connections, this hub gives students, faculty, and visitors from all over campus an interconnected space that brings meaning, collaboration, and energy to the area while reflecting the future of the collaborative workplace.
How can we encourage all forms of learning as a distributed strategy across the campus? How can we make those spaces that might be nestled in a particular college discipline feel like a shared multidisciplinary resource? Creating intentional, engaging spaces and intersections for today’s higher education students encourages them to make their own space on campus and inspires diverse learning.
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David Wilkins leads GMB's Higher Education practice. His strengths lie in long-range planning, identifying institutional drivers, then connecting those to a practical plan for campus development. He is passionate about how spaces can inspire people and embody a school's mission in a tactical way.
Thom is a project lead and architect with GMB. He sees architecture as a journey to discover a client’s needs and goals resulting in an environment that exceeds their expectations.
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