In more ways than we think! Research shows that different factors from simple table groups supporting group work to the indoor climate, the level of daylight and ventilation, the accessibility to outdoor areas, the flow between classrooms and the use of ‘in between spaces’ all matter tremendously. Universities acknowledge this and increasingly include architects to create environments where students enjoy to be, since these are also the spaces where learning thrives.
In the future campuses will be more holistic, catering for more needs and with a greater variety of facilities than presently. They will know that in the best study environments the social aspect is valued just as much as the academic. Today you can study at universities without ever entering the campus. This should not be seen as a threat to the university, however. It just means that the physical spaces need to be flexible and meet new ways of learning, both in and outside classrooms. There will always be students at campus, simply because people are social creatures that need interaction. When the teaching can be handled online from anywhere, the campus has to facilitate old fashioned socializing and serendipity which is harder to recreate online.
The universities that manage to adapt their physical space into small cities that accommodate the changing needs for interaction amongst students will be successful. The possibility to meet interdisciplinary and across levels, and the quality of the environment, will influence how much students will stay on campus. And here architects have a niche. Architecture can in the great scheme of things helps brand the university and create identity, but on a smaller scale it can create exactly those surroundings that make students feel like staying on campus grounds for longer hours – leading to more social interaction and a more active and attractive campus. It is a great spinning wheel all starting in the architectural solutions we choose.
At Henning Larsen Architects, we are curious to continuously investigate what makes a good learning environment. That curiosity is a driver for our educational projects. A lot of architectural choices have a direct impact on the students and their professors’ everyday life for a long stretch of their lives. It is a great responsibility. The students at University of Southern Denmark, Campus Kolding, said that their new campus made them want to do better in their studies. That makes me proud of my work.