Factors Fueling a New Era for Campus Planning
In a climate where every dollar counts, universities are getting smarter about capital improvements to the campus and approaching decision-making more like today’s developer: What is the highest and best use of space on campus today? How can we ensure that the improvements we make appeal to our ‘customers’—students, faculty and staff? How does our brand go beyond school colors and evoke the true experience of our institution?
With this shift in approach, we as designers are increasingly becoming partners at the front-end of decisions about where and how the campus can improve. While physical condition and cost continue to inform capital budgets, the ability to weigh and measure these factors against more qualitative phenomena—brand strength, user experience and student success—can lead to better use of resources and greater impact.
Our recent work with Northwestern University offers a great example of a comprehensive approach to campus planning. This strategic process centered on renewal and recapitalization of the University’s interior common spaces, which comprise roughly 20 percent of Northwestern’s total real estate and often serve as the first physical impression of the institution. To tackle this design challenge, our team partnered with Northwestern on a 4-part process:
Part 1: Developing Standards & Guidelines: A roughly 400-page document that provides a range of prescriptive standards and high-level guidelines for each type of common space.
Part 2: Assessing Common Spaces: Understanding the current state of common spaces was critical in envisioning an aspirational future. Teams assessed each space across both campuses using Gensler’s iPad-based observational analysis tool, called Observe.
Part 3: Prioritizing Future Projects: The prioritization framework provided a cost-benefit evaluation to help Northwestern determine which renovation projects would give them the ‘biggest bang for their buck’. Using an analytical tool, we conducted a gap analysis between the current state (space assessments) and the future state (Standards & Guidelines) based on a set of criteria: physical condition, cost, utilization, and experience.
Part 4: An implementation process: Northwestern recognized that the success of a program like this lies in clear messaging and stakeholder advocacy. To that end, materials were developed to introduce the program, provide context for its purpose, structure and illustrate how it can be used as each phase of the design process.
This project offers a solution that can be applied to many variations of the same challenge that institutions face today: how to steward resources most effectively to address user expectations and push forward mission & values. This type of process is also scalable with the potential to be applied at a campus-wide level or more department-focused; it can be addressed by a facility team or other departments across the campus depending on the question at hand; and it can be utilized with varying levels of funding amounts. This ability to align resource spending with campus experience has begun to create a new platform for universities, opening up the possibilities of what it means to plan for the future.#