Comparing Campuses 2020: Carbon Emissions

July 20, 2020
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Since 1998, Ayers Saint Gross has annually published a poster featuring campuses from leading institutions around the world. We assemble this collection as a way to support these institutions in finding their common ground and celebrating their unique differences. We believe this understanding will lead to the creation of even better spaces in which to live, learn, and teach. We are pleased to present Comparing Campuses 2020.

Colleges and universities have grown more sophisticated in their approach to sustainability. Indeed, “sustainability” as a catch-all is increasingly becoming too imprecise. Institutions are concerned with resource efficiency, carbon neutrality, and embodied carbon. These are no longer niche concepts, and institutions understand the impacts of them both to themselves and our planet.

The Campuses

This poster compares eight institutions of varying size, geography, age, and classification, showing a figure ground of each campus that color codes buildings by their age and whether they have been recently renovated. We use age as a rough proxy for operational carbon–buildings constructed in the last 30 years are likely to emit less than those built in decades prior. We also explore the extent to which colleges and universities are reinventing their spaces in place. Renovations of older buildings can improve their operational carbon emissions while preserving the embodied carbon in their structure.

In the figure grounds we often see a core of the oldest buildings, with newer buildings both expanding outward and densifying the core. This expansion is not always radial and is focused by the constraints of campus setting and available land. Even when additional land is available, densification can be desirable to keep the campus sized to the pedestrian. The campus that encourages travel by foot and bike reduces the carbon emissions of its campus community. While the oldest structures on a campus are often those that have seen some renovation both for functional reasons as well as the contributions these buildings make to campus history, we also see significant numbers of mid-century buildings renovated since 2000. Renovations conducted prior to 2000 were not hatched as they were less likely to have included improvements in operational carbon.

The variation in campuses was intentional. We were pleased and intrigued to see similar resource efficiency issues were important across the different campuses, but the ways in which mitigation efforts took shape varied a great deal in their specificity. We grouped these similarities in four categories: reduce energy use by buildings, utilize renewable energy sources, manage water use and flow, and reduce waste.

Many schools use STARS (the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System) reports to monitor energy use. STARS offers a standard that encourages cataloging a variety of data in a way that can be compared chronologically within an institution or used to compare themselves to others. Many of the facts shared on this year’s poster come from STARS reports.

One of the most interesting STARS data points was the energy usage of buildings per unit of floor area. This statistic accounts for the change over time in the total GSF of an institution, focusing on the energy efficiency of buildings rather than the overall size of the campus. Reductions in this figure can be achieved by adding buildings that are more energy efficient, as well as improving the energy efficiency of existing buildings. According to Architecture 2030: “nearly two-thirds of the building area that exist today will still exist in 2050. Therefore, any transition to a low-carbon/carbon neutral built environment must address both new construction and existing buildings.”

Sources of energy in general, and renewable energy specifically, varies widely by geography. This is evident in the use of renewable energy reported by these eight institutions. Some campuses have on-site renewable energy generation, often solar and/or wind. Others are purchasing renewable energy credits from off-site sources or have access to utility-generated renewable energy. While all the featured campuses still rely to some extent on fossil-fuel derived energy, the transition to renewable sources is one being applied across scale of institution and even beyond higher education.

Reducing waste often relies on human behavior. There needs to be buy-in from not only the people on campus to recycle and compost, but also the contractors and vendors with which an institution partners. Solutions here require collaboration, and different campuses go about this in different ways. While most of our poster talks about reducing carbon emissions, with waste there is the opportunity to go beyond reduction. Composting is sequestration of carbon and can be applied against the carbon footprint of an institution.

Campuses across the country have vastly different relationships to water. Arid campuses have concerns with supply, whereas other campuses have concerns with flooding and stormwater. It is important to note that potable water has a carbon footprint regardless of location, and conservation of potable water is always a means of reducing carbon emissions.

Advancing the Conversation

Recognizing this growing sophistication and complexity, we wanted to ensure that we outlined opportunities for institutions looking to increase their efforts toward carbon and resource efficiency. We grouped these opportunities into three categories: catalog, plan, and implement.

Cataloging one’s space is key to understanding it. Leveraging space analytics to increase utilization and reuse of space can sometimes alleviate or delay the need for new construction. If building new becomes necessary, the understanding of space needs allows one to build the right space for the right reasons for the right resiliency.

Developing a detailed plan for future investment allows for carbon performance to be integrated as a top priority. For instance, for a building that is being constructed in phases, an institution can not only adhere to changing guidelines but plan to keep upgrading systems to the highest performance. See the Duke University School of Nursing for how this works in action.

Renovations can breathe new life into existing assets while reducing both embodied and operational carbon emissions. Renovating can retain sense of place on campus as buildings become indelible parts of an institution’s identity. See the Hayden Library Reinvention as an example.


These comparisons build on a 20-year legacy of Comparing Campuses posters that support higher education in finding their common ground and celebrating their unique differences. See how this poster has evolved and compare our collection of campuses side-by-side.

Ayers Saint Gross at SCUP 2019

July 11, 2019
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The SCUP 2019 Annual Conference is being held in Seattle this year, and we are pleased to have an abundance of good news to share in the Emerald City.

Ayers Saint Gross has won the SCUP Excellence Award in Landscape Architecture for General Design for the San Martin Drive Pedestrian Improvements at Johns Hopkins University. The project highlights a natural asset while improving the safety and well-being of students. The landscape design incorporates four major elements: defining a continuous pedestrian connection the length of the corridor, developing clear and safe crossings of the roadway, creatively resolving the need for pedestrian connections in an environmentally sensitive area, and establishing clear entry gates to the University. We are happy to announce the honor and proud of this project and our design team for their incredible and life-changing work.


A new year at SCUP also means a new Comparing Campuses poster. Since 1998, Ayers Saint Gross has annually published this poster featuring campus plans from leading institutions around the world. After a number of years focusing on specific themes, this year’s poster is a recall to our original style and features eleven new additions to our collection. Featuring a mix of large and small campuses and punctuated with sustainability facts, we’ve assembled this collection as a tool for institutional planners in the belief that understanding campus organization and data will lead to the creation of even better spaces in which to live, learn, and teach.

We look forward to seeing everyone at the conference. Come and visit us at booth 401.

2018 Comparing Campuses: Student Housing

July 10, 2018
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2018 marks the 20th edition of our firm’s Comparing Campuses poster. Since 1998, we have explored hundreds of campus plans from leading institutions around the world. We assemble this collection as a tool for institutional planners because we believe that understanding campus organization and data will lead to the creation of even better spaces in which we live, learn, and teach. We understand the importance of research, and believe that sharing our research contributes to creating better campuses.

Last year, we turned to the past, exploring historic campus master plans and how they helped shape their respective campuses today.

This year, we’re going home – or more precisely, to the on-campus places that students call home.

Housing plays a central role in students’ lives. The residential experience can be a competitive amenity that contributes to a university’s brand. Well-designed spaces and varied typologies should meet the needs of students as they change and grow throughout their college experiences.

Our 2018 poster compares campus-owned housing typology, density, and distribution across 10 institutions. Each map highlights housing facilities color coded by the predominant unit type, overlaid with a series of circles scaled to represent the number of beds in each building. We hope you enjoy exploring how these different institutions have created places that students can call home.

If you won’t be at SCUP, please email us at comparingcampuses@asg-architects.com and we’ll be happy to send you a copy. Additionally, the entire Comparing Campuses collection is available on our website. Visit us there, or at booth 109 at SCUP 2018 to claim your copy. We’ll see you in Nashville, and look forward to discussing the many ways to help students feel at home on campus.

2017 Comparing Historic Campus Plans

July 7, 2017
Comparing Campusus SCUP 2017
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Continuing the tradition begun in 1998, Ayers Saint Gross has published a new Comparing Campuses poster for 2017. Over the years, we have explored hundreds of campus plans from leading institutions around the world. We assemble this collection as a tool for institutional planners in the belief that understanding campus organization and data will lead to the creation of even better spaces in which to live, learn, and teach. We understand the importance of research, and believe that sharing our research contributes to creating better campuses.

In 2016, our Comparing Campuses poster explored Innovation Districts, communities that align academia, government, and the private sector. These mixed-use districts offer an exciting glimpse into the future of science, business, and urbanism.

For 2017, we’re turning our attention to the past, and specifically to the ways that universities grow and change. This year’s Comparing Campuses poster highlights historic campus master plans and their relationships to their respective campuses today.

The history of an institution makes for fascinating study, and can inform future planning. In some cases, all the originally planned buildings are still part of campus. In others, none of the original buildings have survived the march of time (or were never built at all). We hope you enjoy seeing how the 11 campuses featured on the 2017 poster evolved over years, decades, and even centuries.

If you won’t be at SCUP, please email us at comparingcampuses@asg-architects.com and we’ll be happy to send you a copy. Additionally, for almost 20 years, Ayers Saint Gross has gathered data on the physical characteristics of campuses for our Comparing Campuses posters. The collection now exceeds 200 campuses, and is available on our website. Visit us there, or at booth 403 at SCUP 2017 to claim your copy. We hope to see you in Washington, and look forward to discussing the past, present, and future of campus planning.

2016 Comparing Innovation Districts Poster

July 6, 2016
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In 1998, the Society for College and University Planning (SCUP) held its annual conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Ayers Saint Gross released our first Comparing Campuses poster.

This month, the SCUP Conference is again in Vancouver and we’re releasing our 18th Comparing Campuses poster. It’s fitting that we’ll be in the same city where this project launched, as this year’s edition is a return to the familiar figure-ground diagrams featured on the original poster, albeit with a twist. This year we decided to bring take our attention away from the cores of institutional campuses and focus instead on Innovation Districts.

Innovation Districts, and the economic ecosystems they create, are a platform for universities, research institutions, cities, and the private sector to maximize connections and increase proximity between people, ideas, and investors. In contrast to the isolated suburban research parks of the last century, today’s innovation districts are diverse, mixed-use communities that establish a critical mass of economic, research, and social activity in a dense, walkable area typically adjacent to an anchor institution or downtown.

Our process started with collecting base information and master plans for eleven existing or emerging Innovation Districts throughout the U.S. We ultimately decided on comparing the following aspects of each district:

  • Physical layout (scaled figure-ground)
  • Governance structure
  • Land area
  • Public open space area
  • Research/office space
  • Retail space
  • Housing units
  • Hotel rooms
  • Transit service
  • Distance to anchor institutions & downtown

We compiled the necessary data and information for each district from local government sources, development plans, master plans and reports, and other partner organizations involved with district planning and oversight.

It was a fascinating exercise and successful team effort to put together this poster, and we hope you enjoy exploring it as much as we enjoyed creating it. You can peruse this year’s edition, as well as the entire archive of Comparing Campuses here. It’s exciting to see how these districts are evolving and growing, and to imagine the impact they will keep making on our cities, economy, and collective future.

2015 Comparing Campuses Poster

August 29, 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 depicted at the same scale. Seventeen years and posters later, the collection exceeds 200 campuses.

For the 50th SCUP conference in 2015, we wanted to play up the history of SCUP by incorporating all post-secondary institutions rather than focusing on individual institutional snapshots. While we have historically focused on physical characteristics, we broadened our perspective to look at both physical and statistical data that illustrate the dramatic changes that have occurred over the past 50 years. Where were we in 1965? Where are we going today? Some of these statistics such as enrollment rates are well-known but deserve another look to validate progress. Others such as gender and diversity hint at a shifting societal role of post-secondary education that is evolving.

Our process started with researching a dozen or so metrics that could potentially comprise this year’s poster. Many matrices, charts, and spreadsheets of data later, the metrics we decided to include are (roughly) divided into four overarching categories:

  1. Access – Who is attending? Enrollment, Gender, Diversity boxes along the top row
  2. Typology – Where are students going (both by geography and type of institution)? Geography, Largest Institutions, Scale & Quantity along the middle row
  3. Faculty – Are they part-time or full-time? Faculty box in bottom left corner
  4. Money – What does it all cost? Tuition, Room & Board boxes along the bottom row

In our previous posters with figure grounds and space data, we relied on self-reported data from the colleges and universities. One thing we discovered in our research is that there is no standardization of space data reported at a national level. Per Frank Markley at Paulien & Associates, “the national government stopped collecting GSF for US campuses in 1974.” So unfortunately we could not include any space-related metrics at any standardized national level.

This data was compiled from multiple sources and we applied our own interpretations and graphics. The majority of the data was provided by The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and The Chronicle for Higher Education (as well as the Census). We not only used the published data from NCES and the Chronicle but contacted each agency and had ongoing dialogue and sharing of data. The poster is the result of a collaborative process. Although the poster comprises nine different boxes, everything in the poster is part of an ecosystem that is tied together.

 

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.