Forward-Looking Space Metrics

July 16, 2020
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As colleges and universities think through back-to-campus scenarios and their path forward as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, it is important to consider just what metrics inform the space analytics that are foundational to understanding a campus.

We have asked experts from across our firm to share their thoughts on:

  • Learning Environments
  • Student Housing
  • Higher Education Workplace Environments
  • Schools of Nursing

Q: What factors should be considered when developing forward-looking space metrics?

Three major trends have driven instructional space metrics over the past decade as higher education has shifted toward student-centered learning.

Autonomy: Information is now instant and mobile. Now that content can be acquired fast, free, and digitally, the new purpose of the classroom experience is to explore knowledge. This type of learning environment requires an increase of net assignable square foot per student. An instructional space that meets these guidelines will provide greater agility in adjusting to 6-foot social distance requirements, as well. Flexible furniture also allows institutions to rearrange or de-densify rooms.

Experience: The customization of the educational experience has led students to prioritize experience and hands-on learning. This type of learning often occurs in class laboratories, open laboratories, maker spaces, and research labs. Laboratory environments are rich with learning experiences that cannot easily be duplicated via online courses even prior to COVID-19, and we often recommended that institutions increase the amount of laboratory and maker space on campus.

Porosity: If you strip away the curriculum and the credits, a campus exists for serendipitous encounters between students and scholars where creativity happens, ideas are explored, and learning experiences are created. Porous learning environments allow learning to take place inside and outside the classroom and at multiple scales and comfort levels to create an equitable and adaptable learning environment for all learners. Post-COVID, experiential campus experiences may allow universities to differentiate themselves and offer an alternative to online lecture-based learning. Universities should consider dedicated space for student-centered study, group learning, and gathering space to represent approximately 15-20% of the instructional space found on campus.

Q: How is this affecting students?

Physical distancing in the classroom limits an instructor’s ability to “reach and teach” every student. By distancing students in the classroom and limiting instructor/student and peer-to-peer interactions, the learning environment favors students closest to the instructor. In this situation, a virtual synchronous environment may offer a better learning environment. In the virtual environment, the distribution of students on each screen is random, students appear the same size, and multiple modes of interaction are available via microphones, chat features, and interactive whiteboard exercises. Moreover, asynchronous virtual opportunities give students the flexibility to learn on their schedule. Learning does not compete with other priorities, such as jobs or families. Students can watch material multiple times to take notes and absorb information.

Q: Are there any fundamental differences for student housing during the pandemic?

Schools are exploring how to move forward, and it’s easy to imagine certain scenarios: relying more on single units, including converting traditional doubles to singles, for instance. Many schools, however, have planned and built in swing space for special accommodations that develop during the academic year. The pandemic adds another layer to this complexity and highlights the need for a flexible framework from which to work.

Many colleges and universities plan to start the fall semester at full occupancy, while leaving a certain number of beds or residence halls vacant as COVID-bed surge space. Other institutions are relying on the off-campus market to relieve pressure on their housing stock to best align their bed capacity with social distancing goals. Regardless, many are considering significant operational, policy, and infrastructure measures, such as reducing the occupancy capacity of their residence hall common spaces, more restrictive visitation privileges, providing much more frequent cleaning, or putting locks on common bathrooms to limit the number of students sharing each one.

As students return to living on-campus, schools will have a plan in place in case there are resurgences. Institutions with medical schools and requisite facilities may opt to provide their own testing and care, while others are partnering with their local medical community. While hopefully anything of that nature is only momentary, these measures may need to be in place for some time. When it comes to what makes a successful residence hall, though, the recipe remains the same: community leads to better student outcomes, so it remains crucial to provide the proper balance of outside-the-unit space and manage them responsibly in these trying times.



Q: Beyond physical distancing guidelines, how do we create workplace environments for the campus community that promote a sense of safety, inclusion, and collaboration for both in-person and remote participants?

On average 25% of a campus’ non-residential space inventory is devoted to office space and are part of most buildings’ programs. Small changes to office space metrics can have widespread impact, so it is critical that decision-making be grounded in data. An analysis of the anticipated needs of the workforce and the past utilization of existing space is a good starting point. Employee data and room-by-room space inventories can provide great insight and help identify opportunities to build a program that provides appropriate space per person for individual work, storage, circulation, and collaboration.

Also, consider how remote work, social distancing, and staggered or flexible schedules may impact space needs. Campuses should still be sprinkled with spaces that foster collaboration—both informal, spontaneous encounters, and more formally scheduled meetings. They should, however, anticipate increased virtual participation, both from those working remotely and those on-campus not ready for face-to-face interaction. Technology should be ubiquitous, and capacities and furniture layouts should be reviewed to ensure adequate space per person and good camera sightlines.

Q : What could this mean for offices moving forward?

Faculty-student interaction, which is critical for student success, will require a different setting. Looking forward, I anticipate increased demand for spaces that can safely accommodate one-on-one or small group interactions. In-office meetings already have made some uncomfortable and will likely now make many feel unsafe. I recommend identifying underutilized spaces in academic buildings (ideally in highly visible areas frequented by students) and repurposing them as dedicated, reservable faculty-student spaces.

Q: How are the skills lab and simulation spaces for nursing being altered by COVID-19?

Many schools have taken a detailed look at how to effectively prioritize and use specialized spaces safely while keeping the importance of a rigorous education front and center. After March 2020, nursing programs lost their clinical placements, and as a supplement to clinical practicum, nurse educators shifted to virtual and screen-based simulation through a variety of resourceful methods to supply all of their students remaining clinical learning hours. Immersive simulation using VR and projection is one way to transform any space into a simulation environment offering more utility from existing spaces and facilitating endless simulation scenarios.

For in-person lab courses in Fall 2020, nursing programs must calculate the useable area of their labs, less fixed equipment such as hospital beds and exam tables, to determine the reduced space allowance per student. Students can continue to work within their clinical groups that are normally 8-10 people, except they are spread out into different spaces. Flexibility and adaptability have long been key to designing success health science education spaces, and the COVID-19 pandemic is highlighting this importance.    

Q: What kind of methods are being implemented?

Some things are now common in the broader world–smaller groups, temperature monitoring, face masks, daily sanitization of space and equipment—but there are some creative new ideas and methods. Skills and health assessment can be supplemented with customized lab packs sent to students to use at home. The expense of the lab kit can be offset with invention—one schools is discussing 3D printing their own objects and anatomical models for students to use at home. Some programs deferred skills training from spring to fall in hopes to have more hands-on opportunities. Virtually, students have been able to demonstrate skills competency through Zoom break out rooms, after viewing instructor demonstrations. Objective structured clinical examinations, key measures of a student’s competency, can be reimagined virtually as telehealth appointments with simulated patients. Telehealth has seen expanded use during the pandemic, so this has an additional benefit to train students in the way in which they may be working. Overall, some of the new teaching methodologies were found to be more successful than originally thought, and will continue in the fall semester.

Q: What about Nursing, Multidisciplinary Research, and Public Health?

Community based research in nursing has evolved since the onset of COVID-19. Here are some examples of how Duke University School of Nursing is providing outreach and creating partnerships with social work and public health organizations during this pandemic.

  • Homelessness: With the same goal to improve community health, partnerships such as the DCHIPP (Duke Community Health Improvement Partnership Program) is connecting the school of nursing and the community. Students transitioned from their traditional clinical setting of screening patients to working with the Durham Homeless Care Transitions (DHCT) organization that offers temporary housing, a case manager, and access to rapid testing for those who are homeless.
  • Spanish Speaking Populations: Multidisciplinary teams lead by the school of nursing have been established to work with the county health department to inform public service announcements by developing culturally and linguistically appropriate educational materials to the Spanish speaking population.
  • Aging Populations: To assist seniors and the geriatric population, the school of nursing research team is facilitating virtual teaching sessions on effective communication with seniors so that volunteers can effectively communicate and provide reassurance during telephone encounters with seniors.
  • Global Healthcare Initiatives: With global clinical placement trips cancelled, nursing students partnered with Cureamericas contacting hundreds of Guatemalan residents and speaking to them informally about COVID. They are developing a database, referring them to local resources and creating an evaluation plan.

All of these efforts showcase really important work and the power of research and multidisciplinary teams.

Is Your Master Plan This Flexible?

May 28, 2020
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As a result of COVID-19, colleges and universities have experienced an unprecedented mass move off campus. It is unlikely this was a scenario explored in your master plan. During this moment of crisis, a master plan developed before the COVID-19 outbreak can provide valuable information about how to maintain vibrancy while keeping people safe. Here are four places to look:

  • Analytics as a foundation
  • Applying planning principles in new ways
  • Upholding a sense of place
  • Finding a path forward

Analytics as a Foundation

A clear-eyed, data-driven analysis of the campus forms a strong foundation for a master plan and a back-to-campus strategy. Master plan analytics collect, synthesize, and visualize key data sets to show what assets exist and how they are used. Having a robust understanding of a pre-COVID starting point allows a quick pivot to modeling new scenarios.

Will any longstanding space standards be applicable in the future? To be flexible and forward-looking, space metrics must carefully consider the individual human experience in physical space. Planning to distance students in the classroom illustrates why modular thinking is important. The reality on many campuses is that large swaths of the classroom inventory are quite dense. Space analysis often reveals large lecture halls with about the same square footage per student as a passenger on an airplane – widely agreed upon as a high-risk environment during a pandemic. To hold classes in person, more space must be provided for each student. To determine precisely how much more space, planners and designers must consider each individual rather than work in averages. These sorts of changes to the planning module create ripple effects across campus that can be understood using a data-rich master plan.

Master plans set target metrics, and they also explain why the metrics matter. For many years, higher education classroom design has trended toward more square footage per student and flexible furniture to support student success: research demonstrates that more space per student supports better learning outcomes. While physical distancing and active learning suggest increasing space per student, the goals of each shift are quite different. We can’t lose sight of student success objectives during this time. Will students be spaced so far apart that they can’t reap the benefits of learning from their instructors and peers?

Applying Planning Principles in New Ways

Master plan participants look at the campus using a telescope and a microscope. Detailed “microscope” thinking is fueled by current priorities and assumptions and is subject to change. “Telescope” thinking generates planning principles, enduring values that inform future decision making about the campus, including a COVID-19 back-to-campus strategy.

For example, institutions often choose a principle like “welcome” because it speaks to inclusivity, openness, and partnerships. There is an inherent tension between increased engagement and safety, and never has that tension been more apparent. Visitor experience planning creates carefully choreographed moments that welcome users and clearly describe how they should use a space. With this guidance, many people will comply. As campuses reopen, the community – and visitors to the extent that they’re allowed on campus – may be greeted each day by a temperature check or other screening. The vision of being a welcoming environment suggests that the experience of that new daily ritual matters. In addition to serving an important public health purpose, it is a community building and communication opportunity.

The idea of welcome also reminds us that a campus community is diverse, and the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately impacts underprivileged communities. Campus facilities are safe places to live and work for many individuals who have few other options. We see clearly in this time the mission-critical nature of that role. How can institutions pursue those aims in a welcoming manner?  

Though they may need to be reinterpreted, planning principles apply in times of crisis.

Upholding a Sense of Place

A master plan identifies unique features of an institution and its campus. Safety is the top priority, but there are many ways to execute a back-to-campus strategy. The master plan can spark creative thinking about safe and appropriate ways to maintain the magic of being on campus as part of a holistic approach.

Leaders are working to identify essential in-person activities and strategies to conduct them safely. Fundamentally, there must be fewer people on campus. Is it possible for the campus to feel alive without a rush of students across the quad at class change?  Even from a distance and with fewer people, a long view of your fellow community members going about their daily lives is poetic and impactful – especially after months in quarantine. 

A master plan celebrates sacred spaces. They may include historic buildings that are harder to maintain and adapt, but making use of these facilities – if practical – ensures vitality in these incredible places and reinforces for students that their education is place-based: the experience they have on campus is distinctive, if different from the experience offered before. It also connects the campus community to previous generations, who endured wars and other global crises. Campus life was radically different during those eras as well; this reminds us that change is constant.

Master plans look both backward and forward. Forward thinking pushes us to establish new sacred spaces. Landscape enhancements can have a powerful impact with modest investment. Outdoor spaces provide a therapeutic and calming escape, and gathering outdoors with appropriate distancing practices may offer reduced risk. Establishing an outdoor classroom or other landscape enhancement envisioned in the master plan might serve the campus well now and become a sacred space in years to come.

Many campuses will have a rare opportunity during the transitional period: lower parking demand. This might be an opportunity to experiment with pilot projects suggested in the master plan, like closing a parking lot or road to vehicles and repurposing it for recreational uses like cycling, fitness classes, or outdoor seating for dining.

Finding a Path Forward

While this crisis will impact each individual and institution differently, the need to adapt is universal. This experience will catalyze rapid shifts in growth aspirations, priorities, and access to resources. Demographic trends suggest increased competition for students will persist beyond the COVID-19 threat. Many institutions will need to plan for smaller overall enrollment and decreased revenue. A fundamental long-term physical planning challenge will be scaling down, whether in targeted areas or across the board. This will present different challenges than scaling up. Hard decisions and new ways of thinking and operating will be needed.

Many of the master plan elements that inform back-to-campus strategies will fuel long-term flexibility as well: forward-looking space metrics, principles that speak to small and large investments, a commitment to place. Master plan ideas that optimize current assets will be critical in the long-term: a smaller footprint works best when we embrace what we have and use it well. While distancing requirements will cause low utilization of space in the near-term, comprehensive renovations can enable transformative increases in utilization over time.

As institutions prioritize their areas of strength and respond to market realities, they may realize that some important, specialized spaces cannot be effectively provided through retrofit and renovation. Strategic new construction may still play a role in a plan that shrinks the overall footprint. A limited new construction strategy means new facilities will need to serve the institution holistically in a way that moves beyond silos. Master plan proposals for new interdisciplinary, interdepartmental facilities with shared spaces and strong connections to existing assets are the best candidates to prioritize moving forward. Moreover, plans for new construction will need to be coupled with serious consideration of demolition rather than backfill. There are sustainability implications of abandoning the embodied carbon of an existing facility, but there are resource consumption implications – both environmental and economic – of continuing to maintain and operate an over-scaled portfolio.

Lastly, the master planning process can be more important than the product. Investments in process build consensus and a coalition that supports implementation. The COVID-19 era emphasizes that process also builds flexibility. More engagement in the master planning process means that participants understand the relationships between different elements of the plan as well as the final recommendations. They are more likely to see how adjustments to specific recommendations and priorities are consistent with the vision and values for your campus. Master plan participants may be key contributors to the back-to-campus strategy. Ultimately, master plan investments in your planning community enhance your flexibility to adapt.

Luanne Greene in The Chronicle of Higher Education

October 10, 2019
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Luanne Greene, FAIA

As the premiere source for higher education journalism, The Chronicle of Higher Education serves their readers with current news, insightful opinions, helpful advice, and a robust career portal. The Chronicle also periodically takes deep dives into critical issues facing the college and university realm and publishes detailed reports. The special publication “The Campus as City,” features interviews with a diverse group of leaders across higher education. Included is Ayers Saint Gross President Luanne Greene, FAIA addressing the principles that bring cities and colleges together.

Colleges and universities are more invested in their relationships to their surrounding communities than ever before. This report investigates how colleges and universities perform many of the functions of a local municipality, but with constrained resources and heightened expectations. This fascinating and important report explores questions such as: how do you run a modern campus and keep functions like planning, transportation, and public safety at the forefront? What is the role of an anchor institution, and how does the surrounding community influence decisions that you make? How do you pursue responsible expansion and development?

Colby College, Alfond Commons
Alfond Commons at Colby College, featured in the publication, caters toward service-minded students and features a community forum on the ground floor.

Each campus environment brings its own history, challenges, goals, and sometimes resentments (indeed, the publication’s introduction cites clashes dating back to 1355). The questions are not new, but the strategies and creativity dedicated to resolving them is. In the piece, Luanne discusses the importance of developer relationships, looking ahead to future transit challenges, and the essential nature of having people and ideas near one another. These principles help guide our design thinking and cover practical concerns of infrastructure, scale, and environmental impact, as well as the ineffable qualities like the sense of place and intellectual buzz. Cities and campuses have a great deal to offer one another and their successes can be mutual. Ayers Saint Gross works to break down these barriers, and facilitate inclusivity.

Point225

Among the examples cited in the piece, the Providence Innovation District is a great example of these principles at work. Home to prestigious institutions including Brown University, Johnson & Wales University, and the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence is a place where many good ideas are being formed. Supported by developer partners and fulfilling the potential of the connection to the rest of the city opened by the re-routing of I-95/I-195, all those good ideas will have access to the business community and vice-versa. The resulting innovations (tech start-ups, new ideas for mature companies, research and development breakthroughs, among others) provide opportunity and feed back into the economy of the city. Point225, the first building implemented as part of the master plan, recently opened, and we are excited to see the results.

Place matters. For students, a campus is where some of the most memorable and intellectually rich moments of their lives may occur; for the community, it’s home; for faculty and staff it’s both. We are proud to share our involvement in The Chronicle’s publication and honored to play a role in the future of campuses and cities alike. See Luanne’s portion here.

2014 Comparing Campuses Poster

January 5, 2015
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Ayers Saint Gross released the first Comparing Campuses poster at the 1998 Society for College and University Planning (SCUP) Conference in Vancouver, BC. It featured black and white figure-ground drawings of 11 campuses at the same scale, including the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Carnegie Mellon University. Hobart and William Smith Colleges appeared on the poster in 2000. 17 posters later, the collection exceeds 200 campuses.

This year’s poster compares physical campus growth at three institutions between 2000 and 2014.

Across the firm, we’ve had many reasons to reflect this year: we installed a timeline of the firm’s 100-year history as part of recent office renovations, celebrated the retirement of Lex Schwartz after a 45 year tenure with the firm, and marked 10 years of student life innovation with ACUHO-I in our book for this year’s conference in Washington DC.

Insights gained from looking backward offer us a starting point to look toward the future. This year’s research reinforced several themes of our practice:

Technology has transformed our relationship with data.
Early on, the poster provided information that was not readily available. Google Earth, institutional research websites, and open source Geographic Information Systems data have increased access to information about higher education. People have become more savvy consumers of data as they engage with more and more of it daily. Our research efforts today focus on filtering and interpreting the vast resources available to tell important stories.

Every institution has its own story.
Nationwide demographic and economic trends led to growth across higher education in the first decade of the new millennium. Growth manifests differently at each institution. At UNC Chapel Hill, for example, the combination of state-sponsored bond bill funding, generous philanthropy, and pressing needs for new facilities created a rare climate supporting redevelopment that was unique to that place and time.

Going forward, each institution’s specific culture will impact how the emphasis on greater utilization and efficiency continue to play across the industry. Context matters.

Growth is both qualitative and quantitative.
Each of the three institutions experienced quantitative growth, particularly in enrollment. The “People” column reveals that growth in one area does not directly translate to equivalent growth in other areas. Values put parameters on growth. Having more students doesn’t necessitate more parking, especially on urban campuses like Carnegie Mellon’s where land comes at a premium. At Hobart and William Smith Colleges, housing expansion intentionally outpaced enrollment growth to strengthen the residential college environment.

In a world of slowed quantitative growth, the quest for qualitative growth remains compelling.

Campuses change.
From day to day the pace of change can feel slow, but looking backward highlights ongoing transformation. Each entry in the Comparing Campuses collection reflects a specific moment in time. While the drawings showcase the enduring qualities of the campus core, that one new building missing from the drawing hints at its age. If only slightly, the place has changed.

Each project changes campus in some way. What part does it play in a bigger story? Does it reflect our values? How does it move the ball forward?

This year’s effort was a great opportunity to refresh our collection. If your institution is included in our database and you’d like to update your information, send us a note at jwheeler@asg-architects.com.

Click here to read more about our Comparing Campuses poster.