Technology and Tradition: Developing an Integrated Campus Design

Spurred by rapid advances in technology, the learning environment has evolved from the traditional passive learning model into a problem-solving model that encourages collaboration across disciplines. Add to this the reality of today’s competitive educational market, and the need to create an integrated campus becomes obvious.

An integrated campus incorporates state-of-the-art technology, allows flexibility for future change, and is purposefully and creatively designed for collaboration and interaction between instructor and student. In addition, an integrated campus combines these elements into the character of the campus, resulting in either cutting-edge technology encased in traditional campus architecture or a building design that reflects the cutting-edge technology itself.

Because today’s student is savvy about technology and expects to have easy access to the university’s mainframe and the Internet, a primary concern for administrators is to upgrade technology infrastructure to include voice, video and data capabilities. An immediate need that should be addressed is presentation and network infrastructure needs. These include classrooms, conference rooms and auditoriums - any spaces that require sharing of information.

Focus on the Building

But upgrading technology alone solves only half the problem and for only half the time. Educational technology, from infrastructure to individual pieces of equipment, is rapidly evolving. However, the buildings that house these activities, whether new or renovated, are built to last from 50 to 100 years -- they’re not evolving. The wiring and equipment installed now will change many times during the life of the buildings. Without creative architectural design solutions, an integrated campus is not fully possible. Before you commit to adding to your campus’s inventory of buildings, it is wise to take a fresh look at your existing facilities.

Instead of thinking of campus facilities as buildings independent of each other located within specific disciplines, try to get a bird’s-eye view of your campus. Look at each building as part of an integrated whole. When you look at your campus in this new way, it will surprise you how many ways there are to create an integrated campus.

Make Your Plans

Once you consider your campus as an entity in itself, there are several steps you must take to get where you want to go. The best architectural design solutions begin with two separate but connected plans.

1. Take a proactive role in creating a comprehensive educational plan that addresses current and potential future educational needs.

2. Working with the owner, the architectural team develops a facilities master plan that serves as a blueprint for implementing campus design goals.

The facilities master plan begins with an assessment of the physical conditions of existing buildings, current building usage, space allocation and site considerations. As this inventory is developed, possibilities and opportunities to enhance the educational program emerge. There is no magic solution: Each campus is unique.

Preserving A Campus’s Character

Ultimately, the design solutions may consist of building designs that reflect the technology itself or, as in the case of the Eck Center at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, the solution may be cutting-edge technology encased in traditional campus architecture. This two-building complex houses the alumni offices, visitor center and campus bookstore, serving as a gateway to the campus and blending with the campus’s collegiate gothic architecture. Traditional interior details such as wood wainscoting serve as raceways for telecommunications wiring. High-intensity lighting to allow for activities such as video origination is incorporated in traditional-looking fixtures. Indirect lighting is carefully located so the source disappears in architectural details.

Creating a New Campus Image

Whether you choose traditional design or a modern architectural style, the solution requires architectural design to be flexible to accommodate rapid technological advances. In addition, collaborative learning requires new and different spaces from those of the traditional classroom. It may even require a reduction in classroom size so that group spaces can be developed.

A good example is the Engineering Complex at Northfield, Vt.-based Norwich University, where study areas are located outside professors’ offices. Locating study spaces in these areas encourages collaboration and fosters learning among teachers, tutors and students, which is not always possible in traditional classroom settings.

In many instances, new construction also includes renovations to existing spaces. Design solutions can include the transformation of outdated areas for new and different uses. As an example, which could similarly have been a college campus challenge, a Connecticut high school needed to update an existing auditorium. Unfortunately, the campus is located on a restricted site bound by a busy intersection, an entrance to a highway and a shopping center; so design had to include economy of space.

The solution was to turn the building into a two-story media center and add a new technologically advanced auditorium with separate access for public functions. Part of the reconfiguration included the creation of new spaces that generated a significant amount of public use outside normal school hours. The design solution allowed the library/media center to be located in the academic center of the school. The new auditorium was then built in the public zone along with a new cafeteria, gymnasium and pool complex.

Creating a New Campus Feel

Many times an existing building’s outdated spaces are underused. College administrators could face the same problem as administrators at Hartford Hospital: The auditorium’s original basement space was uninviting and not configured to take advantage of the new instructional technologies. The stage floor was high and prohibited interaction with the audience. Center aisle seating did not allow seats in the middle of the house, which is the best viewing area for video presentations. Limited lighting alternatives prohibited video origination as well as note taking during a multimedia presentation.

Improvements were made to the 165-seat auditorium. The stage floor was lowered, and steps and ramped access were added to facilitate movement between the stage and the audience. A mechanical room behind the auditorium was converted to a control room, complete with rear screen projection. Acoustical treatment was added to improve sound quality, and new mechanical systems were designed to reduce noise. An array of different lighting scenes are now offered, thanks to lighting improvements. New, wider, more comfortable seating was added and the layout was revised, eliminating the center aisle. These improvements, along with the addition of state-of-the-art multimedia equipment, have turned this underused space into one of the hospital’s most desirable educational spaces.

Although it is impossible to predict exactly how technology will advance in the future, creating an integrated campus allows you to meet new technological changes more easily. Hand in hand, technology upgrades and flexible, creative architectural design solutions allow you to preserve the existing character of your campus, create an entirely new campus image or create a new campus feel.

Mary Jo Olenick is a principal at Glastonbury, Conn.-based S/L/A/M Collaborative.

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