The Modern Learner: Formal and Informal Learning Environments

February 20, 2020
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At Ayers Saint Gross, the design of new learning spaces starts with understanding the mission, vision, and values of the institution for which the project is being planned. Planning and designing successful learning spaces requires an understanding of today’s students: who they are, how they learn, and what their needs are. Learners come from a cross-section of backgrounds, ages, socioeconomic situations, ethnicities, and experiences. The campus learning landscape must be more inclusive of learners from all backgrounds and experiences.

Today’s students are not responsive to passive, row-based lecture methods, they want to learn actively through production and discovery. Integrating human interactions within learning creates connections and fosters retention, comprehension, and motivation. This holistic learning experience is supported through a combination of formal, scheduled learning space and places for informal, student-directed learning experiences.

FORMAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS

Classrooms, laboratories, and lecture halls have traditionally contained rows of desks facing one direction with a fixed lectern and singular teaching wall, but as the method of and behavior of learning is evolving, so too are formal learning environments; they are flexible, engaging environments. A thoughtful and well-designed space sets the expectation for active and collaborative learning. 

Formal learning environments need to have spatial flexibility: environments should be scalable, convertible, fluid, modifiable, and versatile. Flexibility ensures programmatic longevity by building plasticity into the architectural components of the space, thus allowing for the flow of information among faculty, students, and learning tools. A scalable room provides for a variety of student needs, including places for focus, team, sharing, and social connection to align with different work styles and the flow of ideas among peers in a classroom.

Alongside mobile furnishings, thoughtful placement of static architectural features and technology can enhance the fluidity of space. Designing spatial flexibility into a room enables the learner to appropriate the space for their perceived needs and allows for longevity as future needs evolve. When the learner has control over their learning style, it promotes choice and provides for a sense of connection among the students, faculty, and material created in the course.

Technology should be seamless, agile, and user-friendly while also being conducive to collaboration at a variety of scales. Space must be easily adaptable to new equipment and new styles of teaching and learning. Wireless technology allows a seamless connection to remote learners, creating environments that offer various models of engagement for both synchronous and asynchronous learning. Power should be easily accessible and at waist-height and software should allow instructors and students to control classroom technologies without relying on a static IT podium.

To successfully teach every student, the instructor must be able to reach every student. Furniture should be mobile, versatile, durable, and adjustable to accommodate all types of users. The layout and furnishings should champion pedagogical adaptations by the instructor and the students. Seating density should be proportional to room dimensions, and ergonomic furniture supports a range of postures, motions, and physical abilities.

Acoustic quality is a priority when specifying fixtures, furniture, and finishes. Soft surfaces such as carpet and wallcoverings allow sound to be absorbed, whereas angled furniture, such as high-back lounge chairs, contain and direct sound. Technology can enhance the learning experience for those with hearing differences by compensating for less than ideal acoustic conditions; however, the noise associated with powering and utilizing digital tools must factor into the acoustic design of formal learning environments.

Natural daylight and views optimize learning but can often compete with the many digital devices used by students. Operable shades allow user control heat and glare, providing an additional layer of flexibility for users. In addition, overhead lighting should be a mix of direct, indirect, and task lighting to accommodate different means and methods of instruction. Proper design of learning spaces considers sightlines for all participants during discussion-based, presentation-focused, and team-based activities.

INFORMAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS

In informal learning environments, the ownership of learning lies with the individual to design their own experience, create their learning incomes, and self-assess. Informal environments have non-traditional lighting and seating and can incorporate non-learning experiences. Informal learning environments mix private, public, and collaborative spaces to accommodate all learning behaviors. These types of spaces should be available inside and outdoors, in a range of scales, and encourage both planned and impromptu interactions.

Social and study space outside of classrooms and laboratories should have comfortable seating that is durable, ergonomic, and mobile. Whiteboards and access to power provide boosts to these spaces with the tools digital natives use to communicate in support of anywhere and anytime learning.

Rich opportunities for learning and creating exist in research and student project labs, maker spaces, simulation labs, exhibition spaces, pitch platforms, incubator spaces, ideation spaces, and intimate in-between social spaces. Space should be adaptable to new programs and technologies through tensile, versatile, and student-centric design strategies. Informal learning spaces should be designed with the same care and attention to pedagogy as their formal counterparts to create a campus-wide holistic vision for the learning experience.

When locating project labs and innovation studios, an important consideration is access for collaboration across disciplines as well as with outside business and industry partners. For these, special consideration to spots with additional noise, exhaust, and security requirements (such as lockable storage space for student work as well as space for the storage of tools and materials) is necessary. Flooring in work areas needs to be resilient. Writable walls enhance collaboration, however, glass can still sometimes be a barrier so furniture and collaboration spaces should spill from the zoned project lab to add permeability between project and adjacent social and collaboration areas.

Adjacent to student project areas, exhibit and pitch spaces help students to practice oral and visual communication skills. Acoustics and lighting are essential factors in designing these spaces, as students will be showing and describing work to peers as well as faculty and industry mentors. Technology should be available to capture performances and also available to amplify acoustic or visual effects as desired by student presenters. Presentation and exhibit spaces are informal in that they are not usually scheduled but should present as formal spaces that emphasize the importance of creating and sharing new work.

Informal environments allow formal spaces to flex and evolve as new learning needs arise. They allow for connection, invention, and discovery that both enhance formal learning discussions and encourage independent exploration and collaboration. With limited budgets, it is important that all learning spaces are designed with careful research, thought and expertise in support of future-proof and student-centered learning environments inside and outside of the classroom.

How do we determine how much space a student needs in these learning environments? Join us for the next entry in March 2020.

Ayers Saint Gross projects featured throughout this blog:

Presenting Regenerative Design Principles at AASHE

January 14, 2020
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Recently, I presented at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) Conference in Spokane, Washington on the opportunity of regenerative design and the circular economy as it relates higher education projects and campuses. At the largest networking and educational event of its kind in North America, my session, titled “Defining the Finish Line: What the Circular Economy for Universities Should Look Like,” helped attendees understand how design principles extracted from the natural world can act as a guiding platform for colleges and universities to develop a circular economy on their campuses.

Sustainability as a concept is laudably a part of everyday discourse now. This prevalence, however, highlights the importance of non-complacency and continuing to think beyond. Sustainability is not an end unto itself, it is a mid-point on the spectrum of performance between degenerative and regenerative. We can do better, and it’s important to look to how our buildings can create a net-positive impact on the environment.

We needn’t look far. Processes occurring in the natural world provide an excellent toolbox. It is the job of architects and designers to translate these thoroughly time-tested concepts into the built environment. Principles outlined in Permaculture, a design practice developed by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in Australia in the late 1970’s, do an excellent job of getting this conversation started. These concepts appear in many of our projects.

Semans-Griswold Environmental Hall, Washington College: Catch and Store Energy
Waste is not a pervasive issue in the natural environment – everything gets used as a resource somehow – nature excels at catching and storing energy to develop itself. With such abundant resources at hand, there is little reason that we can’t apply the same level of resourcefulness to the built environment. To create a circular economy, developing systems that collect resources when they are abundant is absolutely necessary.

Semans-Griswold Environmental Hall is designed to be a net-positive building, meaning it creates more energy than it consumes. Having this be a goal from the outset played a large role in the design. This brought together form, function, and performance beautifully. Rather than attempting to retroactively apply sustainable features late in the design process, extensive analysis at the beginning of the process to figure out the energy needs of the building helped to minimize its impact. By first analyzing energy requirements, then creating opportunities for energy conservation, efficient use of that energy, and optimizing the time of use management allowed for the design to minimize its energy use intensity. Not only did this help the net-positive goal, it also limited the disruption of the environment in the building footprint (originally, solar panels were needed on the landscape; the final design only required them on the roof).

Alfond Commons, Colby College: Use Edges and Value the Marginal
In nature, it is the point at which things meet where the most interesting and diverse interactions take place. These interactions often create the most productive elements in a system, as is observable in estuaries where salt water meets fresh water and mangrove trees thrive in conditions that break expectations for what trees need.

This holds true when exploring the ways in which institutions and their host communities interact. We’ve talked about the successes of Alfond Commons a number of times here, and we remain impressed by the positive results created by embracing the edges of campus with housing. Many institutions and communities struggle with how to interact with one another, but Alfond Commons demonstrates the eagerness of students and residents to interact and solve problems.

Hayden Library, Arizona State University: Creatively Use and Respond to Change
Change is inevitable. Nature excels at adaptation. When it comes to translating this process to the built environment, it is important not just to repurpose a space, but to focus on its historic, current, and future uses.

For this project, it was important to acknowledge the historic legacy of this building as an icon on campus for 50 years, recognize the changing function of a library on a modern university campus, as well as anticipate a similar degree of change for the future. Libraries as a limited function place, with a primary focus on books is no longer true to the way students learn and gather information. Digital resources have largely overtaken that function. With the Hayden Library, the building remains a crucial learning resource, but with open, flexible spaces encouraging collaboration and interaction.

Kyle Ritchie, LEED AP BD+C, WELL AP, is a Sustainable Design Coordinator working across all discipline groups at Ayers Saint Gross.

Awards: 2019 Year in Review

December 19, 2019
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This year, Ayers Saint Gross projects were honored with more than 20 design awards, including eight AIA awards for work spanning across the globe. As a multidisciplinary design firm, it is a tremendous honor to be recognized for work that thoughtfully integrates all our disciplines – architecture, landscape architecture, interiors, planning, space analytics, and graphic design – to create holistic and sustainable environments that provide long-term value for our clients. The awards celebrate our core mission to engage people and places to create designs that enrich the world.

We extend these honors to our incredible clients and collaborators who are vital to the success of each project.

Selected Awards

Eckerd College Helmar and Enole Nielsen Center for Visual Arts
AIA Maryland Excellence in Design Honor Award
AIA Baltimore Excellence in Design Honorable Mention

Atturaif Living Museum and Visitor Reception Center
AIA Baltimore Excellence in Design Grand Design Award
AIA Middle East Merit Award, Built Architecture

Johns Hopkins University San Martin Drive Pedestrian Improvements
SCUP Excellence in Landscape Architecture Honor Award

Providence Innovation District Master Plan and Point225
Providence Preservation Society Award for Leadership In New Construction

National Aquarium Wetlands Pop-Up Poster
Maryland ASLA Communications Award

Clemson University Residential Development and HUB Student Center
AIA South Carolina Chapter & Section Design Award – Merit Award for New Construction

Colby College Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons
IIDA Southwest Chapter PRIDE Awards Design Excellence Mixed-Use Category
The Associated General Contractors of America Build Maine Awards Top Award

Virginia Commonwealth University Gladding Residence Center
Student Housing Business Innovator Award for Best New Development by a University

Auburn University School of Nursing
AIA Montgomery (AL) Merit Award for Institutional Architecture

Morgan State University Earl G. Graves School of Business and Management
AIA Maryland Excellence in Design Awards Citation

Bancroft Elementary School
AIA DC Chapter Design Award
ENR MidAtlantic Best Project: Award of Merit Winner in Renovation/Restoration

Alfond Commons in the News

December 12, 2019
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In the fall of 2018, Colby College opened the Alfond Main Street Commons, realizing Colby’s vision of housing 200 students and faculty-in-residence in the heart of downtown Waterville, Maine. The past year has proven this initiative to be a resounding success. Already the project has been recognized for multiple awards, including:

It is always fulfilling to see our projects advance the student experience within the campus community. Alfond Commons is especially gratifying because of its significant impact on both Colby and the Waterville community at large, which has been highlighted in several articles and publications.

In addition to an interview with Ayers Saint Gross president Luanne Greene, The Chronicle of Higher Education’s special publication, “The Campus as City” featured Alfond Commons and produced this excellent video.

Talking Stick, the publication from the Association of College and University Housing Officers-International (ACUHO-I) wrote about both Alfond Commons’ place in Waterville and the active learning community that has been created there.

Finally, we have been proud to share the success of Alfond Commons at conferences around the country.

Recently, Eric Zahn presented the project with Brian Clark, Vice President of Planning for Colby College, at the ACUHO-I Academic Initiatives Conference. Their talk highlighted the unique synergy of civic, academic, and student life spaces within the building, and the aspects of its design that render it both forward-looking and expressive of its place. Eric also spoke about how our student housing expertise and design build teaming arrangement with Landry/French Construction helped get the project designed and delivered on an aggressive schedule. While of great value to the owner, more significantly, this hall has elevated the Colby student experience and established a compelling template for a community-driven co-curricular living community. The fact that it is already the most popular of Colby’s on-campus housing offerings is a testament to its success

Sustainable Design Coordinator Kyle Ritchie presented at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education conference, on the principles of permaculture design, a platform that applies the patterns of natural ecosystems to the design of the built environment. Alfond Commons (along with Semans-Griswold Environmental Hall and the Hayden Library Reinvention) was presented as a case study for putting these principles into practice.

All in all, this news adds up to a remarkable year. We can’t wait to see what the future holds.

Sharing and Learning at Tradeline

November 14, 2019
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Recently, Alyson Goff and I presented at the Tradeline Conference in Austin alongside University of Virginia Assistant Campus Planner, Elisa Langille. Themed: “University Facilities for the Sciences and Advanced Technologies,” Tradeline focuses on highly technical facilities for corporate, university, and government campuses. Topics span engineering, health sciences, robotics, artificial intelligence, data sciences, biological and physical sciences, maker spaces, and innovation hubs. These conferences are intimate in scale and feature deep-dive presentations from institutional representatives and sessions from owner-consultant teams.

Conferences of this nature are great opportunities to catch up with clients, share expertise, and stay apprised on the challenges facing institutions. Our presentation, “Translating data and strategic vision into a physical space plan for engineering and applied sciences,” focused on the Integrated Space Plan for UVA Engineering. Together, we demonstrated a process for incremental, strategic renovations that unleash the academic potential of underutilized and outdated buildings; we detailed the shakeup of traditional departmental structures, and illustrated UVA’s road map to align the School’s academic plan and strategic goals with its existing space inventory; and we demonstrated large-scale building opportunities to satisfy goals and provide adequate space to create pedagogical change within UVA Engineering. The concept of “engineering on display” remains a popular driver, but accomplishing it is difficult. We were happy to share the lessons of this great project — a fantastic project team, an excited client, and a powerful story is a great combination.

Beyond our presentation, the Tradeline Conference, as a whole, offered an incredible learning experience from other sessions and through casual conversations. Some of our key takeaways include the importance of developing guiding principles to inform priorities and decision-making. Goals such as flexibility, diversity, adaptability, and connectivity, are particularly important, as learning spaces translate those qualities into the built environment. STEM education remains a priority, but we are now seeing an increasing number of institutions seeking to integrate the arts and sciences into engineering. As interdisciplinary education becomes more widespread, this ensures ethics is part of the STEM curriculum.

Other new concepts include further evolution of active learning environments featuring open, flexible spaces to accommodate a variety of uses such as a math cave or interprofessional education (IPE) simulation and the fusion of physical, digital, and biology technologies.

Good design creates purposeful interaction, and collaboration and engagement makes it possible. Given the importance of data in decision making, visualization and accessibility of data are key pieces to the puzzle in today’s world. We are happy to be on the forefront of this and eager to learn more and help shape the future.

Dana Perzynski and Alyson Goff are associate principals in the Planning and Space Analytics discipline groups, respectively.

Contact Dana
Contact Alyson

Ayers Saint Gross Earns #29 Ranking on the 2019 Architect 50 List

November 9, 2019
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We are so thrilled that ARCHITECT Magazine ranked Ayers Saint Gross as number 29 on its annual list of the top architecture firms in the country. This prestigious industry ranking is not just about being the largest firm; instead it rigorously evaluates the metrics of a firm’s overall business, sustainability, and design portfolios. The business evaluation includes finances; HR benefits; equity, diversity, and inclusion; and pro bono work. Sustainability measures the firm’s internal and external commitments to ecologically responsible building. A trio of judges reviews a selection of key projects in the design category.

The complexity and thoroughness of the ARCHITECT Magazine process speaks to how the industry can and should approach the creation of the built environment. As a multidisciplinary employee-owned design firm with a focus on mission-driven clients, we believe we have an obligation to leave places better than we found them.

We understand that we can make places better financially by building successful, diverse spaces and creating a philanthropic, sustainable business where expertise develops, careers grow, and new leaders arise. Responsible green building has a net-positive effect on our clients’ lives and on the planet. And of course aesthetics count too – designs that are beautiful, functional, and inspiring are at the heart of our work.

As we move into a new decade, this honor from ARCHITECT Magazine serves as an inspiration for what our designers and our firm can do next to push our business, our sustainability practices, and our designs to the next horizon. I’m excited to see what happens next.

The 2019 AIA Women’s Leadership Summit

November 5, 2019
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Equity, diversity, and inclusion are core values at Ayers Saint Gross and are vital to increasing the representation and advancement of women in architecture and design. This September, the AIA Women’s Leadership Summit was held in Minneapolis. Spanning three days and featuring dozens of workshops and speakers, more than 750 women architects and design professionals gathered at this important event, themed “Reframe. Rethink. Refresh.”

I have attended the past Women’s Leadership Summit programs with fellow colleague Elizabeth McLean, AIA; Seattle in 2015, Washington, DC in 2017 (I was fortunate to be on the Mid-Atlantic strategic planning committee) and this recent summit. Reflecting on this year (the largest attendance on record), it was interesting to see a diverse range of attendees in Minneapolis – in age, geographical representation, and many first-time attendees. For me, the summits provide both challenge and encouragement — replenishing my well year after year. The women pioneers around these issues in our industry come; Beverly Willis and Rosa Sheng, among others. And so do the local chapter committees, sole proprietors from rural practices, and the mid-level architect struggling with what’s next for her career. They each have an impactful story, a welcoming spirit, and a wave of commitment to our practice.

The summit was spent unpacking leadership styles, practicing active listening, and uncovering intentional impact areas. The benefits are not only personal but bring into focus the strengths needed to continue to support Ayers Saint Gross’s diverse clients and projects.

The metrics still show small growth for women as they progress through our profession and into leadership or more prominent design roles. The 2019 AIA Women’s Leadership Summit demonstrated a record number of women and firms committed to accelerating progress. It is this level of conversation that our profession deserves and requires to continue the hard work to bring about more equitable architecture. In addition to myself, Ayers Saint Gross was proudly represented by multiple attendees from across our offices. I am happy to share their thoughts and impressions.

Elizabeth McLean, AIA:

The AIA Women’s Leadership Summit strives to raise the profile of leadership in architecture, share and promote the design work of women, explore paths to leadership, and provide women the opportunity to learn from each other. This format crosses boundaries and allows for both strength and humility to shine. Our participation is important, with it we recognize individuals at different levels and support them to engage, learn, and extend the conversation when they each return to their offices and communities. The summit offered a space to share and grow; to reconnect.

This year’s gathering supported the conversation around moving forward and regrouping. I appreciated reframing the conversation. The public acknowledgement that every woman in architecture is a leader is powerful, and it provided the opportunity to be more inclusive and allow the numbers to increase the inspiration and potential for impact. It shifted focus beyond the individual and promoted empathy and generosity, acknowledging that leadership is empathetic and comes with accountability.

There is still a lack of women in leadership positions. We are urged and inspired to be on the forefront of confronting the issue and not only aware of it. The summit operated as a laboratory to test the potential for change across scales. There is an action-based emphasis on commitment and accountability. Considering formal and informal power, and large and small commitments, we challenged – What’s the stance, goal, commitment, and change? With this, there is meaningful purpose to gathering together.

Anya Grant, AIA:

As a first time attendee to the AIA Women’s Leadership Summit, I expected to be impressed by prominent women architects whose experiences paved the way and continue to clear a path for practicing architects like me. I was. What I didn’t expect was to also have the time and space to meaningfully engage with other women at various stages in the profession who are making their own mark as leaders. 

Through the medium of storytelling, we were guided through the personal accounts of women practicing in and reshaping the profession around the issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion. As we grapple with how to maintain a sense of inclusion in our profession, several presenters made a case for how it is not only relevant in our workplace, but also in engaging our clients. They raised the following question – whose voices are considered when design decisions are being made and how can we elevate the voices that are often unheard? One speaker, Malaz Elgemiabby described her efforts to meet community members on an individual basis when designing a community center. She not only learned about global needs that informed the design, but also points of neighborhood pride that were highlighted in murals. Pascale Sablan, in highlighting initiatives that promote diverse representation in architecture, described a community fellow position where a community member impacted by a design project is selected for a paid position to have a voice in regular design meetings. These accounts, among others, challenged us to think of the architect’s ability to engage and empower.

After days of stimulating conversations, we were invited by Pascale at the conclusion of her seminar, to turn to our neighbors and tell our own stories of leadership. This moment, where each woman spoke confidently of her ongoing work to shape our profession, highlighted the collective power of the hundreds of architects in attendance.

Nicole Ostrander, AIA:

Priya Parker, the keynote speaker, immediately set the tone of the summit as a supportive, collaborative, and empowering gathering of women, focused on storytelling. For the first several minutes of her session, we were encouraged to get up from our tables and step from our sphere of comfort to connect with new individuals by sharing a piece of own story with each other. Through this activity, Parker, author of The Art of Gathering:  How We Meet and Why it Matters was creating what she defines in her book as a transformational gathering. The AIA Women’s Leadership Summit was a created space in which attendees could open themselves to each other and forge connections. Parker provides excellent insight on how to give your gatherings purpose – whether a meeting, workshop, or dinner party – to create meaningful encounters.

Many of the sessions at the conference were focused on the topics of leadership, professional and personal development, and time management. With a range of women, all driven individuals at various points in their careers, there was a common narrative of navigating our own professional and personal responsibilities through shared experiences.

Teri Graham, AIA:

This was my first AIA Women’s Leadership Summit. It was powerful experience both in self-discovery and connection with other women with similar journey. We are not alone. The session “How To Set Your Career Path And Lead Authentically” presented by Jill Bergman, Katie Fricke, and Sandy Tkacz focused on self-discovery and connecting with others to advance in our careers. Emphasizing the importance of investing in yourself, the first step is to know thyself. Accomplished by growing your soft skills, assessing your skill gaps, and being resilient and proactive, you can be your own change maker. The next step discussed networking by both giving and receiving through finding an advocate and advocating. Career reflection points combined both know thyself and connecting through discussion on coaching, listening, taking ownership, understanding purpose, leading, and believing you are worth it. The big takeaway was we need to be a BRAT: Being Bold, Being Resourceful, Take Action, Have Tenacity.

Alice Brooks, AIA is an associate principal based out of the Baltimore office. Contact Alice.

Ayers Saint Gross at Advanced Building Skins

October 24, 2019
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Sustainability is a core Ayers Saint Gross value and resiliency is a crucial aspect of this goal. With much of the research and technology looking into new construction, it is important not to forget the sustainable possibilities of existing buildings.

On October 28, we will be presenting at the Advanced Building Skins Conference in Bern, Switzerland. This conference brings together Architects, Engineers, and Building Scientists (as well as material scientists and academic researchers from technical universities around the world) to share both the latest theoretical developments in building envelope technology and real-world experience and creative solutions as these advancements are put into practice. We will be presenting on the innovative double-thermal mass skin implemented as part of the Johns Hopkins Hospital Nelson Harvey Building Exterior Over-Cladding and Interior Renovation.

For hospital buildings in particular, where there can be no loss of patient care and the building must remain occupied, maximizing existing resources is paramount. By avoiding the carbon footprint associated with demolition and site work, applying inventive design solutions to existing buildings gains not only the sustainability advantages of new technologies, but also leads to an overall improvement, a substantial cost savings for the owner, and a reduced construction schedule.

For this project, forensic and visual observations of the façade disclosed severe thermal and moisture failures with decomposed flashing and lack of insulation. Similarly, the building was constructed without allowing thermal expansion vertically or horizontally of the building envelope, so areas of the façade were structurally failing, bowing, and delaminating. Like many buildings built over the last several decades, however, the structure was still sound.

Innovative solutions using thin precast concrete panels in combination with existing masonry created a hybrid double-skin envelope. In addition to all of the environmental benefits of ensuring the resiliency of the building, the double-thermal mass wall decreases heat transfer gain/loss through the building envelope for any given season and capitalizes on the high heat capacity of concrete and masonry to delay heat flow through the envelope by an action termed thermal lag. This results in a higher performing building.

We are happy to share these advancements and real-world applications with the world, and look forward to learning all the latest developments.

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.

The Value of Engagement

September 27, 2019
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This post is a collaboration between Amber Wendland and Corey Rothermel.

Engagement is at the core of Ayers Saint Gross’s mission and our planning practice. We strongly believe in the collective wisdom of a facilitated, inclusive planning and design process. In our rapidly changing world, communication, knowledge sharing, and connections are vital to generating consensus around shared visions. We work with varied and diverse groups of stakeholders to generate creative ideas that respect local culture, climate, and setting.

Our planning process involves overlapping activities that bring together the people and information needed to create a plan for the future. Effective implementation of planning visions is only possible through a carefully designed and executed process that engages stakeholders to reflect the mission and values of each institution, organization, or municipality.

Project success is more easily achieved through better knowledge, understanding, and buy-in. Engagement achieves all three of these things. Engagement not only allows us to be better designers by coalescing more input, but it is also an opportunity to generate excitement and harmony among stakeholders around a shared vision.

Engaging On Campus

In a higher education setting, in addition to the senior leadership that typically makes up a steering committee, broader public engagement is a way to bring students, faculty, technical staff, operational staff, and community members to the table. These stakeholders are the experts on how the campus is working and what is needed to best support student experience, student success, and operations.

Higher education clients also bring unique challenges; a significant one is finding the right time to engage stakeholders. Students, staff, and faculty have different schedules and are on campus at different times throughout the day. Identifying the best time (or times) to engage with stakeholders is the first hurdle.

It is critical to market the event through multiple avenues (email blasts, posters, web postings, adverts, etc.) and convey why it is important. Support from the client helps in this arena. They are critical in spreading the word, providing space to host an event or activity, and supplying incentives. Perhaps even more important, the client is the one that can best identify who should be in the room. This entails not only bringing in the right stakeholders to provide input, but also making sure that they are comfortable sharing their thoughts in a safe setting.

Stakeholders can tell when planners and designers are not genuinely interested in hearing their thoughts. At Ayers Saint Gross, we emphasize the value of bringing a broad and diverse set of stakeholders into our process and incorporating their valuable insight and input into our projects. Ultimately, this is the best way to produce dynamic projects that have wide-spread support, clear implementation, and create great experiences for all.

Ayers Saint Gross helped assist Tarrant County College (TCC) in creating a vision that would help to transform their traditional format libraries into Learning Commons to better meet the needs of today’s students and faculty. Building off our previous work with TCC that identified a college-wide need to increase pedagogical connectivity between learning inside and outside the classroom, we knew that the existing libraries were less than ideal for educators and students alike. Our team lead an engagement-heavy planning process for all five physical TCC campuses that included parallel in-person and online efforts for students, staff, and faculty.

Each group was asked a unique and comprehensive set of questions that collectively helped formulate the vision and scope for what the new Learning Commons could be. Responses highlighted the opportunities that existed to capitalize on the transformation of libraries into Learning Commons by incorporating spaces, programs, and resources that would help redefine the relationship between pedagogy, teaching, and the library space. Ayers Saint Gross then took this feedback to college leadership and used it to guide and facilitate the decision making that led to final designs.

At each student open house, we brought 40 pizzas anticipating that we would be well covered. Thanks to fantastic event marketing by the client, students showed up and participated en masse leading to the pizzas quickly disappearing. In all, we went through 200 pizzas over a 48-hour period.

Engaging in the Community

In urban planning, the most important stakeholders are community members. To produce an ethical, sustainable plan, it is vital that we begin by openly listening to the needs of the residents, business owners, elected officials, city government, and other stakeholders. Engagement must continue throughout the development of the plan to ensure the vision accurately depicts the desires of the community. This requires listening and a thoughtful exchange of knowledge; the community educates us on their needs and we educate them on components of the planning process. Engagement strategies include addressing individual questions in breakout sessions, polling, design stations, or boards where people can deliver comments and have conversations more intimately. This makes engagement more personal and is the kind of one-on-one interaction required to build rapport and consensus.

For the East Baltimore Revitalization Plan, the community had been the unfortunate recipient of decades of underinvestment, discriminatory practices, and neglect. There was an understandable skepticism of planners. The residents remembered decades of urban renewal when whole neighborhoods were razed and communities were torn apart. The team needed to develop trust to create a Master Plan that captured the community’s fundamental needs and served as a vision for them to champion moving forward.

When designing exercises, it is critical to make a strong effort to minimize implicit bias and design activities that accommodate variety of perspectives and abilities. This covers everything from the selection of images and wording of questions to the actual physical layout of exercises to enable stakeholders of differing backgrounds and experiences to participate. It is vital that everyone feel and be included.

Our carefully crafted engagement strategy was founded on these principles and we were able deliver a vision and plan for the community while building relationships, trust, and confidence within the community to carry the plan forward into implementation.

Transferring planning knowledge to community members should not be approached didactically, but instead as a two-way conversation to help inform and empower community residents. Speaking personally, during a final community meeting for the Southwest Neighborhood Plan, while reviewing final recommendations, I carefully walked one woman through a recommendation for increased zoning capacity, as it was a crucial move in order to be able to provide adequate affordable housing in the future. About 15 minutes later her friend arrived and had the same concern, I watched her explain to her friend exactly what I had walked her through. Not only allaying someone’s concerns, but giving them the tools to share with their fellow community members is incredibly rewarding and a great reminder of the real-life impacts of our work.

Providence Innovation District Opens

August 27, 2019
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Recently, we celebrated the ribbon cutting for Point225 in Providence, Rhode Island. In attendance were the Governor of RI, Mayor of Providence, the President of Brown University, the I-195 Commission, the design team, and many more.

Point225, the first building implemented as part of the Providence Innovation District, is a project that carries extra significance for Ayers Saint Gross. As designers of both the building and the Providence Innovation District Master Plan, we are thrilled to see the vision come to life. The rerouting of I-95/I-195 in Providence created new developable land and removed a longtime barrier between the historic Jewelry District, home of Brown University’s medical school, and the city center. Reclaiming a brownfield, the plan envisions a million-square-foot mixed-use community containing housing, a new hotel, retail, labs, research space, and a variety of tech start-up spaces.

The building houses Brown University’s School of Professional Studies, Cambridge Innovation Center, and Johnson & Johnson, among others. These tenant anchors bring together academics, start-ups, and executives that provide mentorship and funding – a compelling mix that fosters innovation and acts as a catalyst for research and development. The signature building is a gateway that welcomes visitors, residents, and employees into the district with street-level retail and a lively streetscape. The architecture is dynamic, with movement on the facades that echo the vibrancy and excitement of the innovation happening within the district. At the core, a central green contains a one-story district hall that is open to the public and provides flexible meeting and dining space.

We are excited to design a platform that supports innovators and urban infrastructure—the entrepreneurs, the institutions, and the culture that make Providence such an iconic college town. In a city with prestigious universities, a strong arts community, and a friendly start-up environment, Providence is proving to be an ideal case study for innovation district success.

It is always striking at these events how many people and organizations it takes to make a building like this possible and the commitment it takes to make it a success. The project was an incredible team effort with a great process. The planning and implementation of this project has required the consistent coordination among Ayers Saint Gross as the designers, developer partners, higher education partners, tenants, and the city. This level of collaboration was crucial, and the celebration was well-deserved.

First Annual Jim Wheeler Day of Service

July 26, 2019
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“We engage people and places to create designs that enrich the world.” This philosophy guides our design thinking for our clients and is a standard to which we hold ourselves. Putting our values into action across our offices in Baltimore, Tempe, and Washington DC, this spring we held the Jim Wheeler Day of Service. Named in honor of our former president and current chairman of the board, this is a day for us as a firm to give back to the communities where we live and work.

When Jim Wheeler came to Ayers Saint Gross in 1987, the firm was already 75 years old with a venerable history and deep local traditions, but also ready to transform itself. He saw a collection of people willing and eager to take on the future – and change. That’s what Jim has always been about, and still is.

When it came to connecting with our communities, Jim understood the importance of giving back, which led him to the United Way early in his career. When the challenge of leading the United Way board of directors came along, Jim saw a chance for growth and change – in the United Way and in himself. He helped lead them to pioneering projects and a new home.

This is a legacy we seek to live up to by continuing in this example and expanding our reach. We are happy to continue our long relationship with United Way and to forge new bonds with non-profits nationwide. The activities for the Jim Wheeler Day of Service included neighborhood cleanups, helping create parks, gardens, and greenspace in the inner city, volunteering at food banks and kitchens, Habitat for Humanity, and helping at local elementary schools.

We look forward to repeating the success of the day for many years to come and are happy to share these images from the events. We encourage others to get involved with these great organizations.

DC Central Kitchen
United Way – Maree G. Farring Elementary School
City of Refuge
Duncan Street Miracle Garden
Maryland Food Bank
Arizona Habitat for Humanity
Kirby Lane Park