Carefully planned additions and strategic expansions better serve a diverse and value-oriented generation of students.
By Ray Varela, Design Principal, Carrier Johnson + CULTURE
Challenges facing U.S. universities and colleges today are significant, ranging from issues of affordability and access to greater diversity and a push for innovation. Fewer students are finishing their college degrees, and only about four of 10 full-time, first-time students nationally earn a bachelor’s degree in four years. Can new facilities—and better uses of existing buildings and grounds—be part of a solution?
Learn more about responsive campus design in our interview with Ray Varela.
We’ve seen proof that they can. Community-college expansion projects, in recent years, have created facilities that bridge the divide between full-time and part-time students and between commuting students and those taking online courses. At public universities, there’s fresh evidence that innovation in residential life, with more attractive offerings for freshmen and transfer students, boosts retention rates. Academic settings are diversifying, too, helping private and public institutions stand out and create memorable college experiences.
One planning strategy is merging new buildings with existing facilities to create special synergies or reinforce the school’s mission. An example can be found near Los Angeles at California State Univ., Dominguez Hills, which ranked second in a 2015 list of the 100 most affordable U.S. universities. There, university leaders envisioned a new south wing of its Leo F. Cain University Library that would create a strikingly contemporary expansion to contrast with the 1960s-era modernist surroundings, yet fit in naturally and comfortably.
Flanked by two major pedestrian walkways, the updated library anchors the academic corridor of the campus. As it doubles the capacity of the original library, the five-story addition also bridges the divide between old and new. Inside, a dramatic new learning space accommodates 1,600 new reader stations and nearly 250 computer workstations, as well as study rooms, book stacks, and state-of-the-art archival storage and research. Just as important, the facility’s events center and art gallery showcase works that reflects the region’s multicultural population.
When it opened, the CSU Dominguez Hills library dean said the expansion “represents so much more than the traditional academic library. We note our tremendous diversity as a signature of our campus, and we now have a building that is an artistic showcase of our many cultures.”
These projects must deliver daylight, outdoor views, and other ways to comfort students. Art and nature informed the approach for a science center at Point Loma Nazarene Univ., where new labs and classrooms embrace a landscaped area for students to meet and relax. An iconic addition to the coastal campus, the building features an elevated walkway behind a long arc of perforated stainless-steel panels spanning its full length, filtering sun and shade into a common area—a subtle echo of a cathedral space, apt for the school’s religious mission. The feathered panels also protect the glass facades from the sun’s glare and heat.
Most important, new majors and collaborative research opportunities are housed in the science complex, enhancing Point Loma Nazarene Univ.’s high rankings for its science department and record of successful placements into medical schools.
In addition to academic facilities making campus life remarkable, new ideas for residential life are spreading across the country. At one end of the spectrum are small-footprint “micro-dorms” in new or retrofitted buildings, leaving extra space for shared study and lounge zones. Examples include the Univ. of British Columbia in Vancouver, which is building new, furnished student apartments smaller than 150 sq. ft.
Contrast this with the Univ. of California, San Diego, where recent residential projects for its Village at Torrey Pines offer large, apartment-style units with modern amenities and a sleek design aesthetic. Designed as transfer-student housing, the “eco-flats” residences are competitive with area market-rate offerings, giving the university flexibility in the face of future demographic shifts. Most important, the UCSD residential zone is infused with art, dining options, community spaces, and amenities, making it a real village.
Today’s higher-education leaders continue to do more with less, creating innovative and magnetic new learning environments that add value to today’s college experience.
Ray Varela is a leading practitioner in higher-education architecture and campus life. He is a design principal and project leader at the global firm Carrier Johnson + CULTURE, a San Diego design and strategic branding practice known for innovative building, living, and communications solutions.