Disruption in Higher Education

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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


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.


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.


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


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


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


As experiential, immersive learning has trended upward, open and

Adaptations of students, faculty, and staff will drive the evolution of


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

support services.

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






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.





50 40 30 20






10 0





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




in active spaces


focus on application


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.


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.


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”)



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

kinesthetic learning.

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


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

and activities.

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


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


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.

may include:

space considerations:

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.


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


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

outdoor space.

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


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.

interdisciplinary thinking.






asg-architects.com BALTIMORE, MD • WASHINGTON, DC • TEMPE, A Z

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