Disruption in Higher Education
On-campus students spent the majority of their Fall 2020 semester masked, distanced, outdoors, and learning virtually.
Ringling College of Art and Design, Greensboro Hall
PIVOTING TO THE NEXT NORMAL OF A POST-PANDEMIC WORLD
Fifteen months ago, our lives faced sudden, unprecedented disruption as the novel coronavirus swept around the world. The pandemic affected our routines, elevated the conversation around social justice and equity, and created sweeping change throughout all industries, including higher education. Colleges and universities paused in-person living and learning and quickly reinvented course delivery and assessment methods. This period of isolation has amplified the desire for togetherness and created an opportunity for change. Colleges and universities must shift their perception of campus, integrating greater flexibility into traditional educational experiences. This report explores trends that will shape meaningful disruption
Ayers Saint Gross is an employee-owned design firm focused on mission-driven institutions. We engage people and places to create designs that enrich the world.
and change to the planning and design of campus academic, research, student life, and informal spaces. We believe that thriving campus environments in the next normal will focus on creating equitable, studentcentered spaces.
2 | DISRUPTION IN HIGHER EDUCATION
Redefining the Campus While high education institutions were being asked to do more with less before
students needing to interact with faculty members and each other to advance research. The pandemic exposed
the pandemic’s disruption, the realities
existing inequities in learning, with students struggling
presented by COVID-19 have accelerated
to meet academic costs, to find internet access and places to study, and to develop a sense of self that an
this trend. We must fold the events and
on-campus experience encourages. These inequities
outcomes of the last decade, including
were reinforced last summer amid a string of police
the COVID-19 global pandemic, into conversations of an academic evolution. As the ramifications of the pandemic rippled globally, it became clear that universities and their campuses were on the precipice of change. The pandemic changed the way students interact. In-person gatherings were limited. Classes and extracurricular social activities morphed into various forms of virtual and hybrid facilitation. Some colleges and universities restricted students from leaving campus. At other institutions, students navigated the challenges of learning from home at great distances, and in some instances, radically different time zones from their physical campuses. In aggregate, restrictions limited impromptu connections and relationship-building opportunities, stunting the traditional “emerging adult” experience that on-campus living provides traditional-aged students seeking to explore newfound identities, independence, Virginia Commonwealth University, ONE VCU Master Plan
the academic growth and rigor of graduate and doctoral
and future possibilities. The same conditions limited
brutalities that prompted nationwide protests and calls for social justice. These combined events brought to light campus-wide reconfigurations and operational shifts needed to meet the unaddressed needs of today’s students. In the past fifteen months, we discovered that it is not the scheduled instructional spaces that students are missing; it is the open and unprogrammed places for interaction, connection, and belonging that foster and support student development and growth. In these places, students cast aside differences to embrace a common collegiate desire to learn and grow as human beings and citizen leaders.
3 | DISRUPTION IN HIGHER EDUCATION
The Only Constant
ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE Extended periods of remote operations are causing institutions to think in new ways. Institutions will need to reframe their educational models to meet the needs of students. At their core,
Change is a constant force on college and university
institutions will need to refocus themselves on their missions and
campuses. Change can be slow and evolutionary or
remember why they educate students. “Academic excellence” no longer requires only traditional in-person instruction but requires a
rapid and revolutionary, but each change brings
campus community and efficient use of space.
challenges and opportunities that must be addressed to maintain the institution’s reputation and viability.
BUILD CREATIVITY AND INNOVATION THROUGH: University of Maryland, Edward St. John Learning and Teaching Center
• Trans-disciplinary teaching and research • Diverse teams of teachers, learners, researchers, and community partners
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues and colleges and universities play out their return to campus scenarios, they must consider what metrics
• Spaces defined by flexibility and adaptability
are foundational in understanding their spaces. The pandemic response
• Breaking down departmental borders
mandated an immediate pivot in all areas of campus operations—from educational delivery to campus maintenance—and institutions are now
PERSONALIZE LEARNING VIA:
grappling with what changes should be made permanent. The
• Customized degrees rooted in transdisciplinary thinking
opportunity to rethink key spaces and respond with innovation will be a
• Individualized curriculum
cornerstone of a successful institution.
• Co-teaching • Choice in delivery models in support of student agency
In response to the evolution of higher education over the past ten years and the unprecedented challenges brought on by events of the past
University of Maryland, Edward St. John Learning and Teaching Center
FOSTER LIFELONG LEARNING BY:
fifteen months, students are demanding a more customized educational
• Continual learning/credentialing to meet workforce demands
experience that meets them where they are. Virtual learning
• Continual learning to improve the quality of life, to satisfy
environments offer students unmatched flexibility, give every student a
curiosity, for fun
front-row seat, and ensures learning does not compete with other
• Institutional ecosystem as a network of identifiable physical,
priorities, including jobs and families.
social, and virtual space offerings • Campus as a community hub for a diverse and multigenerational body of learners
INVEST IN HYBRID LEARNING WITH: • Personalized attention and teaching approaches Arizona State University, Hayden Library
• Customized, individualized, AI-enabled to track student progress • Creating a virtual community and robust support networks
4 | DISRUPTION IN HIGHER EDUCATION
As experiential, immersive learning has trended upward, open and
Adaptations of students, faculty, and staff will drive the evolution of
THE NEXT NORMAL
flexible campus buildings that provide opportunities for students to
university buildings into the next normal. Many faculty and staff
We have chosen the phrase “next normal” instead of “new normal” or “back to
connect with faculty, industry, and community partners have
discovered the benefits of remote work and now recognize that they
normal” for this article. We know that humans continuously change, evolve, and
replaced buildings that are singular in purpose and repetitive in
do not need to come to campus every day and may not need a
grow. “New” implies that we will not continue to evolve beyond what life becomes
permanent individual office. Institutions can repurpose former office
after this pandemic. The definition of “normal” continues to advance as we create new
spaces into learning pods for small group collaboration, study
technology, examine new ideas, explore new worlds, and establish new relationships.
Students hold more agency over their schedule and learning pace.
spaces for graduate students working on research, and recording
The next normal will give way to infinite next normals in the years, decades, and
Faculty offer new types of learning opportunities and adapt their
studios for faculty creating virtual content. Similarly, many students
centuries to come.
courses to create equitable access to an ever-diversifying student
want to return to campus, but also appreciate the option of
population. As we venture farther from the notion that seat time or
asynchronous learning. Classroom technology may need to be
screen time equates to knowledge learned, students will have more
reconfigured to accommodate both students learning in person and
flexibility to connect with others, learn new skills, and increase their
students learning virtually. In the virtual world, there is no such
knowledge in both breadth and depth. The change in expectations
thing as the back of the classroom. Faculty grew accustomed to the
of content delivery by students and the adaptation of new
ease of creating breakout rooms and virtual whiteboards. Spaces
pedagogies of teaching by faculty will redefine and revolutionize
will need to adapt to allow for students to break out into
expectations for facilities and the way we prioritize and measure
collaborative teams to learn. Alternatively, students could meet in
space in relation to learning success.
smaller spaces across campus and plug in virtually to a lecture
TYPICAL NONRESIDENTIAL SPACE ALLOCATION 100 90
WELLNESS + ATHLETICS
15-20% OFFICES 20-30%
given by a faculty member in a different location. Where does that leave campus facilities? Institutions will continue to
evolve their existing facilities. We already see a shift in inventory as
The opportunity to expand the typology of the campus building
campuses decrease their stock of office spaces and classrooms in
stock both addresses the question of the future of gatherings and
favor of co-curricular spaces and library and study spaces. Research
shifts the conversation into the revolution of the campus. However,
spaces will start to increase as well, pushed by campus incubators
revolution requires a whole campus shift, which we may potentially
and the new needs in the fields of medicine, sciences, and
experience over the next decade as we understand the full
technology, based on our society’s next normal.
ramifications of the pandemic and we embrace the next normal.
STUDY + COLLABORATION
50 40 30 20
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The Future Campus: Evolution or Revolution? Student-centered learning has transformed the design of educational environments as best practices continue to swing from didactic lecturing towards experiential and immersive problem-solving activities. Even before the pandemic, the nature of the academic course was shifting. Knowledge is no longer delivered through a single method, but facilitated through a mix of synchronous, asynchronous, in-person instruction, research, clinical experiences, capstone courses, internships, entrepreneurship, and study abroad. Will the pandemic continue to stimulate the evolution of learning spaces or inspire a revolution that brings us an entirely new campus fabric through which our learners grow?
in static environments
TEACHER-CENTERED PASSIVE LEARNING ONE-SIZE-FITS-ALL SEGMENTED CURRICULUM STUDENT ABSORB MATERIAL focus on content
TOMORROW’S LEARNING ENVIRONMENT
in active spaces
LEARNER-CENTERED ACTIVE LEARNING CUSTOMIZED INTEGRATED CURRICULUM STUDENT CREATE MATERIAL
focus on application
6 | DISRUPTION IN HIGHER EDUCATION
The Campus Experience in the Next Normal
Buildings that are malleable and interdisciplinary have greater potential to remain active 24/7 through both scheduled and unscheduled activities. During the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, we learned that it is not a set of buildings that make up a campus community—it’s the people, the connections they make, and the learning experiences they share. As we move forward towards a hybrid campus ecosystem that emphasizes people and place over physical space, we see trends emerging that will define the next normal in campus design.
If you strip away the curriculum and the credits, the physical campus will continue to be relevant for serendipitous encounters between students and scholars where creativity happens, ideas are explored, and learning experiences are created. Whether it’s within academic buildings, athletic venues, offices, or residence halls, spending time on campus helps students learn to be contributing members of a community. Spontaneous ideas occur while tossing a frisbee across the quad, running into a classmate at the library, or standing in line at a food truck waiting for lunch. The ratio of learning to instructional space is increased through these spontaneous opportunities for informal connection.
COVID-19 compelled higher education to be economically, environmentally, and socially resilient. Emerging from the pandemic, facilities will be leaner and greener. The physical campus will foster a sense of identity and belonging, but also a heightened sense of community and responsibility from their occupants. The success of an institution lies not only in the quality of the education it provides, but also in its longevity. Institutions use campus, strategic, and academic plans to chart out a course for enduring success. An investment in sound planning, sustainable buildings, and flexible campus infrastructure can help an institution meet unexpected change.
Rigid schedules, Carnegie-based instruction, and seat-based contact hours will pivot towards a creative balance of instruction and experience. Spaces for student-led hands-on experiences, including artistic, exploratory, and researchbased, will likely become the most utilized and coveted spaces in an institution’s inventory. The change will offer students and faculty the flexibility and freedom to craft their own academic schedules. Many institutions that use the semester system might opt for minimesters, quarter systems, or looser credentialing models that allow students to modify the timeline of their studies and potentially decrease time and cost spent obtaining a degree.
Institutions will intentionally craft new places for campus communities beyond traditional physical boundaries. Places that can be programmed for various activities, accommodate plugand-play technologies, and cater to multiple learning styles and behaviors will be coveted. These spaces will likely reside within traditional campus boundaries and scattered throughout a nearby neighborhood, city, or region. Spaces may be owned by the institution, and may also be utilized by industry partners, adult learners, secondary students, and community members alike. The physical boundary of a campus will blur to catalyze innovation, collaboration, and immersive education opportunities.
After spending months apart, we are now slowly coming back together with intention. The ability to gather in groups, no longer a given, will hold more meaning and significance moving forward. During our time staying safer at home, we have learned which activities are essential to support our physical, emotional, and social well-being. A campus must have places that support these activities and our need to safely gather for the preservation of our mental health and wellness.
7 | DISRUPTION IN HIGHER EDUCATION
Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) in Educational Environments
Institutions are scrutinizing their policies and subtle
learning space. Inclusive design strategies can provide
structural inequalities. Concerns around admission,
calming and engaging spaces to foster the community
financial aid access, and the controversy over the
and creativity essential to the fabric of higher education.
origins of standardized testing are swirling. Institutions have renamed buildings to remove mentions of those
that have enslaved people of color. As a response to
Institutions need to focus on the accessibility of
justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI), there is a
education both structurally and physically. The deficit of
genuine urgency and call to action to create inclusive
skilled, technically-educated graduates is a significant
and equitable spaces in higher education. A physical
challenge for the modern economy. Institutions need
commitment to inclusive environments fosters integrity
to be able to pivot to support workforce needs and
and student success. The creation of an equitable
population trends; therefore, the next normal should be
environment involves careful consideration of many
prepared with spaces that consolidate access to holistic
profiling and police brutality that has pervaded society in the United States. It has
factors to identify and to nurture a sense of belonging
student support and enrichment services to support a
jarred us awake to systemic inequities and highlighted disparities in our communities.
and authenticity, including diversity, equity, mental
variety of learning.
The conversation has changed. With the pandemic as the backdrop, the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others focused another spotlight on the racial
health, and access.
MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSITY
The pandemic brought stressors, both discernible and
Higher education communities can be microcosms of
veiled, to the forefront at college campuses. Recognizing
our larger society. According to the Pew Research
this, institutions are requesting that designers help them
Center, America will not have a single race or ethnic
adapt their physical space. More institutions are
majority by 2055 (“Modern Immigration Wave Brings
requesting quiet or sensory rooms, respite spaces,
59 Million to U.S.”). Diversity is increasing throughout
meditation spaces within residence halls, adapting for
society and this change is reflected on our college
live-in emotional support animals, and gender-neutral
campuses. There are more low-income students
bathrooms. In addition to infrastructure that promotes
attending college, many the first in their families to
wellness, students need to be equipped to locate and
attend college. There are also more veterans and adult
utilize a support network, including on-campus mental
learners. Design attributes should be considerate of
health facilities and resources.
people with physical, emotional, generational, or cultural differences. Design should celebrate our differences as an opportunity for learning.
EQUITY Invisible stressors are brought onto college campuses and into instructional environments. Students must be Unviersity of West Georgia, Nursing Building
able to bring their whole selves to campus and into the
75% of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 24.
(“Mental Health By the Numbers”)
8 | DISRUPTION IN HIGHER EDUCATION
DESIGNING FOR JEDI
Thermal Comfort: When possible, learning environments
Flexible spaces that offer choice accommodate different
should offer students choices between small spaces, larger
modes of learning. When planning for an open and inclusive
spaces, and outdoor learning spaces that can provide a range
campus environment, we recommend consideration of the
of temperatures to keep all students comfortable.
following design details: Biophilic Design: There is a wealth of study around biophilic
Physical Space: Consider the scale and mix of spaces
design and the healing power of nature to instill calm and
available to students. Add smaller classrooms to the inventory
promote knowledge retention. Green walls and indoor plantings
or add flexible furnishings conducive to group work to break
can help improve indoor air quality, mitigate sound, and
down the scale of larger spaces. A combination of small and
contribute to occupants’ overall well-being.
large instructional space, single study alcoves, small team rooms, and larger social spaces will allow each student to find
Furnishings: In both formal and informal spaces, furniture
their comfort level within their surroundings.
should be diverse, flexible, and mobile to adapt to an array of pedagogies and activities. Furniture should allow occupants
Technology & Infrastructure: Easy accessibility to outlets
autonomy of posture, position, and motion. Instructors should
should be available for technology. Consider providing access
be able to reach and teach every student. Instructors,
to computers and printers on campus. Analog and digital
students, or visitors should be able to easily navigate with a
recording should be available to allow for visual, auditory, and
wheelchair, cane, crutches, or a walker. Choice empowers and
addresses physical differences and cultural and social proxemics.
Lighting & Daylight: Access to natural light stimulates our brains and boosts our moods, which can be very meaningful
Personalization: On a more abstract level, students feel a
for students with mental health issues or PTSD. Porous
sense of belonging when they can identify with a space. This
learning spaces “on display” extend the learning environment
can be accomplished through color, materiality, and aesthetic
outside of the classroom walls, allowing students to feel
considerations. Each learning environment should be ordered
included in the learning. In addition, good sightlines within the
so that unique space blend through colors, patterns, and
classroom help students with visual and learning differences.
brand. If possible, allow students to be part of the design and decision-making process so that they can see a piece of them
Acoustics: Well-designed acoustics minimize distractions and
reflected in the environment. Use a variety of art that reflects
allow a consistent experience for all users, from the closest
the different cultures and backgrounds of students that will
occupant to the furthest in a space. Acoustics that enable
interact with the facility so that each student can find a piece
team-based conversations promote diverse, student-centered
of themselves in the space. Offering a variety of scales of
knowledge discovery and creation.
gathering and study spaces allows each person to find a comfortable place.
Goucher College, Freshman Housing Village
9 | DISRUPTION IN HIGHER EDUCATION
Our Take on the Next Normal If you can remember what it was like to walk through a crowded college campus on a busy afternoon, it was easy to pick up on the basic needs of students: textbooks, technology, bookbags, and water bottles. As we witnessed last March, at a moment’s notice, most students could pick everything up, relocate, and quickly jump back into their learning experience from another location. The pandemic confirmed our ability to divorce instruction from a physical environment, which leaves higher education institutions reevaluating the value proposition of the physical environment. What transforms physical space into a campus community? And how do we move forward to best accommodate the next normal? The pandemic highlighted our need for togetherness.
environments, and places for students and faculty to
Students, faculty, and staff want to see one another.
meet and collaborate. Designers may collaborate with
We have learned that some components of the
programmers and code writers to script an ecosystem of
curriculum, such as labs and simulations, function
physical, virtual, and social spaces that revolutionizes
better in-person. However, students and faculty alike
our opportunities for learning and connection and thus
will bring back to campus new skills, habits, learning,
redefines the campus. Buildings will be fluid, porous,
and teaching styles. Campuses that adapt to the next
and quickly able to adapt to new situations, programs,
normal will retain, but reimagine, their campus
Texas A&M University, Zachry Engineering Education Complex
community. The term “campus” is now a hybrid term. Whether from home, in another location geospatially, or
The following pages explore the future of four student-
somewhere else on campus, 100% of learning on a
centered space types on campus: academic space,
post-pandemic campus will not be bodies-in-seats
research space, student life and residential space, and
classroom-based learning for many institutions.
informal, or sticky space. We outline current trends and best practices for each and explore a few potential
PLANNING TO ADAPT
futures for each space type. Higher education
As institutions reinvest in their facilities to strategically
institutions are as diverse as the student bodies that
align their existing building stock with emerging values,
populate them, so not all suggestions will be relevant to
we will see new emphasis being placed on high-touch
all institutions. However, we invite you to walk alongside
experiences: maker spaces, tutoring and advising
us as we imagine some potential post-pandemic futures
centers, incubator and start-up spaces, flexible research
for higher education.
Colby College, Alfond Commons
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ACADEMIC SPACE The academic environment has evolved over the past
For academic environments on-trend with best practices
On the horizon, we can imagine futures for some
decade from front-facing, fixed environments to
around active and student-centered learning, next steps
institutions that may include the following academic
student-centered and autonomous spaces for learning.
Below are some trends in instructional space that
• Eliminating Fixed Environments: Remote learning
• Minimal Schedule-based Spaces: In a trend towards
increase flexibility and choice in classrooms:
begins 12 to 15 feet away from the source
lean facilities, some institutions could consider
of knowledge. Many institutions are exploring
converting classroom-based courses to online content
education institutions are giving the front third of
opportunities to lower their count of fixed lecture halls
and limiting classroom environments on campus.
the classroom traditionally reserved for the instructor
in favor of active classrooms and informal, student-
Former classroom space can be converted to agora-
back to the students through removing fixed podiums,
centered spaces for the creation of knowledge.
based spaces for open discussion, presentations, and
• The Elimination of the Front of the Room: Higher
adding whiteboards on multiple walls, and adding mobile furniture into the room. This centers the space around student interactions and gives the instructor
• High-touch and Hands-on Learning: The first courses that higher education institutions brought
pitches. • Autonomous Agoras: Building off the trend of math
back to campus were lab-based disciplines. We are
emporiums, competency-based models of education,
seeing more institutions prioritize experiential and
and the rise of coworking spaces, we imagine more
experimental courses alongside spaces for informal
institutions will prioritize space for drop-in and on-
technology that lets students and faculty use their
exploration such as maker spaces, project labs, and
demand learning with both in-person and virtual
own devices in a space. Simple but useful technology
spaces for virtual and augmented reality.
components. These spaces will be cafe-like in nature,
the ability to “reach and teach” every student. • Plug-and-Play: Spaces equipped with basic
includes monitors, microphones, speakers, and recording devices that allow remote students to participate in the course in synchronously or watch and respond later asynchronously. • Cross-disciplinary Collaborations: Institutions are
• Industry Partnerships: The room inventory on a campus should reflect the economy and values of the surrounding community. Merge curriculum with practice by inviting industry onto campus by investing in incubator and entrepreneurial spaces. Reconsider
beginning to eliminate silos by rethinking collaboration
space scheduling and ownership to allow greater
spaces that encourage interdisciplinary interactions
choice, customization, and student autonomy.
and cross-pollination of students and faculty across disciplines and facilities. Buildings are no longer dedicated to single disciplines. Laboratories are designed to be modular in an effort to adapt to changing curricular needs. Classroom furnishings may include multiple podiums and controls to more easily facilitate co-teaching.
• Recording Spaces: The pandemic highlighted the need for high-quality recorded content. Higher education institutions are quickly adding onebutton studios and other quiet places for faculty and students to record professional lectures and presentations with minimal training or equipment.
with a mix of tables, high-tops, and soft seating and an array of whiteboards and technology available for plug-and-play. Similar to Apple’s Genius Bar, staff will be on-hand for questions, tutoring, and impromptu lectures and experiments. • Campus Networks: As institutions begin to unbuild the unit structure that ties learning to seat time and physical space, we are already seeing some physically-proximate institutions share studentservice oriented facilities. We imagine, as credential and lifelong learning increasing, that there will be a greater fluidity between courses and instruction that encourages networking of campuses across geographies and allows learners the freedom to learn where they are and stack credentials from networked institutions. This may also lead to more virtual connections and resource-sharing across geographies and institution types.
Arizona State University, Hayden Library
UNIVERSITY INNOVATION ALLIANCE In 2014, eleven R1 universities across the country, including Arizona State University (pictured above), formed a collaboration known as the University Innovation Alliance with the goal of graduating more underserved students. Earlier this year, five community colleges in New Mexico partnered to create efficiencies around student support. We imagine, as institutions grow leaner in their physical footprint, that a result will be more resource and space sharing across institutional boundaries. This may mean that institutions share academic space such as libraries, maker spaces, and incubators. We also imagine strengthened town-gown relationships and more sharing of space between institutions and their host communities.
11 | DISRUPTION IN HIGHER EDUCATION
RESEARCH SPACE Research helps students develop a variety of skills that
For an institution where research has been part of its
In part due to the pandemic, the research ecosystem is
employers value and gives students an opportunity to
mission for some time, next steps may include:
undergoing rapid change. We imagine most higher
work with faculty mentors. Research opportunities vary by institution; many institutions are developing a model for research that involves all disciplines and involves students in different ways. This can include as research assistants, through independent studies and capstone courses, as part of a study abroad program, or through intern- and externships. Trends and best practices around research environments include the following: • Research on Display: Higher education institutions are locating research laboratories in prominent spaces along main circulation routes and with the ability for students to see into spaces. By making research inviting and accessible, institutions can promote an environment of innovation on campus. • Collaboratories: Best practice research space is centrally located, interdisciplinary, and flexible to accommodate different project scopes, team sizes, and equipment in a single space. Co-location gives researchers and students from different disciplines ability to interact and creates space for change encounters and conversations that can lead to deeper research opportunities for an institution. Flexible furnishings and overhead services allow for easy adaptation. • Stand-alone Laboratories: When research labs double as instructional space, it places limitations on time and subjects of study. Faculty members should have space outside of class laboratories and prep rooms to work on their research. The space should be large enough for student participation and observation.
• Sandboxing: Space to prototype, experiment, analyze, and refine ideas can save an institution valuable resources in both time and space while encouraging campus-wide innovation. • Proximity: With an increase in computation and collaboration, labs are being integrated with office environments, but it can be a challenge for spaces that need sterile lab environments. Consider physical and visual proximity to tie together labs and office environments instead of doubling-up office space. • Equipment Zones: In order for flexible laboratories to work for all users, allocate approximately 25% of the lab space to equipment zones. Equipment zones eliminate redundancies, increase safety, and allow for the sharing of resources to support flexibility • Sustainability: A typical laboratory building uses five times as much water per square foot as an office building, houses heat-generating equipment, off-gases chemicals and waste, and requires 24/7 access and energy use for experiments. Examining requirements from a holistic perspective can improve efficiencies, productivity, and researcher well-being. • Virtual labs: Virtual labs are simulated environments that allow researchers to run experiments virtually, working across typical geographic, scheduling, and facility restraints and allows more users to be involved in the research process.
education institutions strengthening their research arm, which will mean more space dedicated to research. In the future, we may see the following among trends for research space strategies on various campuses: • Pop-Up Labs: Following in the success of pop-up retail and food trucks, we imagine sustainable energy sources creating increased opportunities for popup research pods that allow for on-demand making, research, and exploration. • AR/VR: Research across disciplines and geographies can increase with investment in AR and VR tools and spaces. We imagine a future research space where facilitators work together on projects via holograms and augmented reality. Space will still be required to house this research, but it can be flexible, adaptable, and less equipment-intensive. • STEM + Business: Trends around think-tanks and entrepreneurship are leading to emerging degrees that combine the STEM professions with business and management courses. This disciplinary path requires creative collisions between stock rooms and wet labs that combine making, marketing, and selling into a single facility that builds deeper connections between research, ideas, and technology. For creative disciplinary collisions to work, institutions will need space that increases a sense of belonging and risktaking on campus and allows students to fail forward through experimentation and evaluation.
• Industry-Sponsored Research: Public-private partnerships maximize the return on research investment dollars. Space-sharing allows research to occur at off-campus partner locations in a shared office model—the “WeWork” of research labs. Washington University in St. Louis, Bryan Hall
12 | DISRUPTION IN HIGHER EDUCATION
STUDENT LIFE AND RESIDENTIAL SPACES In the United States, the opportunity to live on campus
For institutions that have recently incorporated best
As we look towards bold and visionary futures for
is deeply ingrained into our system of higher education.
practices into their student life facilities, forward-
residential life, some trends that may emerge:
Living in a residence hall provides learners with the
looking next steps may include:
ability to grow into independence while also providing a safe place to meet new friends and make connections. The diversification of higher education is leading to a variety of emerging trends and best practices around student life and residential spaces, including: • Mixed-gender Housing: To create a welcoming environment for queer, trans, and gendernonconforming students to emerge into adulthood alongside their peers, institutions are building mixedgender housing with gender neutral restrooms. • Emphasis on Belonging: Sensory rooms, service animal considerations, and outside-the-unit social spaces add to the feeling of belonging and contribute to an inclusive social environment for students to live in. • Living-learning Communities: Thematic residence halls pair students with similar backgrounds or interests into a single facility that includes formal, scheduled learning space, informal lounge and study rooms, and residences. • Kitchens: Adding kitchens to residential units gives international students and students with dietary restrictions the ability to cook their own food and therefore feel more at home on campus. • Second-Year Experience: Some institutions are
• Graduate Housing: Some institutions are seeing
interior, or possibly exterior, units that allow students
graduate students, who may require more
to form their own communities. As trends around tiny
sophisticated options such as larger facilities to
houses, glamping, and micro-living grow in popularity,
accommodate families. At the same time, affordability
universities may consider options that prioritize
continues to be a priority.
choice, social space, and accommodations over
• Single Units: Living in a single unit allows students from all backgrounds and identities to find their fit focused work. Aligning the mix of unit types to the
VR technologies may allow students to overlay
needs of the community ensures that those who need
physical and virtual scenes to enable friends to share
it have this opportunity.
experiences without the boundaries of physical space.
• Short-term Housing Options: For students on
students by some private companies, but we wonder
strategies from the hospitality industry and apply
if this trend may get picked up by institutions to boost
concepts like hostels and Airbnbs to their residential
revenue and to create a value-add over off-campus
housing for Generation Z students accustomed to a
technology such as voice activation, facial recognition, and smartphone apps to eliminate dated hardware and unsafe surface contamination. • Vertical Outdoor Spaces: The post-pandemic emphasis on wellness highlights a need for more greenspace on campus. Shared outdoor spaces, both vertical and horizontal, allow students in residence community. Student gardens make a nice addition to
freshmen due to the pandemic. Additional on-campus
more prevalent to cater to this population.
• Concierge Services: Concierge service is offered to
non-traditional schedules, institutions can borrow
• Touchless Technology: Consider smart and touchless
• Nap Rooms: As the student body diversifies and campuses welcome more non-traditional students such as commuters, nap rooms and sleep pods provide a quick respite for non-residential learners.
Goucher College, Freshman Housing Village
• Virtual Roommates: Moving forward from zoom backgrounds and virtual caretaker apps, AR and
who missed the opportunity to make connections as
amenities to rival off-campus offerings may become
bunkmates and suites.
while providing students with a safe, quiet space for
halls to meet, mingle, and create a healthy sense of
the local community, kitchens, dining and rec, and
density in housing, a future market may emerge for
increased interest in on-campus housing from
considering the second-year experience for students
resources, project labs, spaces to connect with
• Mobile Housing: While we are still seeing a need for
more personalized lifestyle. Concierge services would require more space for back-of-house services to ensure consistent, high-quality student services. • Micro Rooms: Fashioned after Japan’s famous capsule hotels, micro rooms could provide an economical alternative to students that favor public spaces for socializing and studying and require minimal private accommodations.
Goucher College, Freshman Housing Village
13 | DISRUPTION IN HIGHER EDUCATION
STICKY/INFORMAL SPACES As virtual and physical space blend in academia,
For campus environments with a healthy range of
Eventually, we imagine informal space will become the
informal space, often referred to as “sticky” space, will
student-centered indoor and outdoor informal spaces,
highest utilized space on the physical campus. When
grow in value. Impromptu and serendipitous
additional layers for consideration include:
we consider an unscheduled, non-traditional space for
connections draw people to campus and provide space for learning creation and discovery. Trends and best practices in informal space includes: • 20% Rule: Informal space should be dispersed throughout campus and exist in every academic building to the ratio of 15-20% of programmed space. Consider doing an instructional utilization study to find underutilized spaces ripe for conversion into informal study rooms and maker spaces. • Choice and Voice: Welcoming spaces offer a variety
• Coworking Centers: Coworking centers that allow students to reserve space and work alongside faculty with access to café areas, conferencing technology, arrangements.
create the necessary excitement and curiosity to push
• Spoke and Hub: This concept allows businesses to utilize entrepreneur centers, office space, maker labs, and lounge areas on campus alongside students. The concept allows a campus to serve as a true hub the community and also allows students to work
Preferences should accommodate the desire to study
opportunities right on campus.
postures and positions. Students gravitate to spaces with an abundance of electrical outlets and the technology infrastructure that allows for plug-and-play of their devices. • Outdoor Environments: Successful campus
• Pop-Ups: Space doesn’t always need to be permanent, and sometimes pop-up spaces can
alongside and participate in real-world professional
should be provided that acknowledge different
part of the future learning environment:
and an array of workstation sizes and furniture
of privacy options that empower student choice. alone, amidst peers, or in groups. Furniture options
learning, we can imagine some of the following ideas as
• Living Rooms: Living rooms are informal spaces around a city or dispersed in satellite locations throughout a geographic region that allow students a place to come to take classes remotely, study together, and create in a safe, campus-lite environment.
innovation and create-based learning. We saw the popularity of temporary collaboration solutions during the pandemic - they can be erected, deconstructed, moved, or quickly reprogrammed. Pop-ups were so fun and successful, we wonder if they will become a longer-term low-cost space solution. • Partnerships: Universities in cities and towns can look beyond the campus for space to study and collaborate. Partnerships with parks, libraries, coffee shops, and local incubators could provide meaningful
University of Maryland, Edward St. John Learning and Teaching Center
collision space for ideas to percolate. • Choose-your-adventure: Plug-and-play learning may combine virtual and physical space. Imagine the campus as nothing more than a set of mobile walls,
landscapes include a variety of size and social options
whiteboards, and monitors where students come
that offer space to gather and space to retreat. When
together on their own schedule to create their own
planning outdoor study space, consider electricity,
acoustics, technology, furniture, and writable surfaces
University of Maryland, Edward St. John Learning and Teaching Center
University of Maryland, Edward St. John Learning and Teaching Center
IMPROMPTU DISCOVERY Learning happens anytime and anywhere and value is added with serendipitous and unscheduled collaborative student spaces (above). Faculty need touch-down space to work together across disciplines (middle). Circulation provides opportunities for openness, natural light, and break-out space for students and staff (below).
When we look to the future, we see the possibilities of anytime, anywhere, anyhow learning to support modern students as they shape their education. They need dynamic and inclusive campuses, and the combination of pandemic response and social awakening has created more opportunities and urgency to change. We are ready to create the next
THE AYERS SAINT GROSS TEAM Ayers Saint Gross is an employee-owned design firm focused on mission-driven institutions.
AUTHORS SHANNON DOWLING is a senior associate
KATARINA CARLIN is an associate principal
dedicated to shaping engaging learning environments
practicing interior design that cultivates inclusivity
by drawing on her experience as an architect, space
and equity. Her ethos challenges assumptions to
analyst, and educator.
push future-forward design thinking.
GINA FERNANDES is an associate whose core
STEPHEN WRIGHT is a principal who uses his
experience centers around engaging students and
decades of experience to design spaces that
stakeholders in the design process. She works to
solve complex programmatic needs, enable
actualize innovative ideas through architecture while
intellectual collaboration, and empower
cultivating a strong sense of place on campuses.
asg-architects.com BALTIMORE, MD • WASHINGTON, DC • TEMPE, A Z
Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends Project, Pew
Research Center, 18 Sept. 2015, www.pewresearch.
“Modern Immigration Wave Brings 59 Million to U.S.”
“Mental Health By the Numbers.” National Alliance of Mental Health, Mar. 2021, www.nami.org/mhstats.
Pivoting to the next normal of a post-pandemic world.