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 (Photo: HT)
(Photo: HT)

Opinion | A blueprint for the university campus of tomorrow

The campus we build today must stay relevant and effective for at least the next 100 years

University campuses are built to last. The Saxon Tower at Oxford University was built in the decades preceding the Norman conquest of England, over 1,000 years ago. The 300-year old Massachusetts Hall, the oldest surviving building at Harvard University, was built before George Washington was born. Closer home, the 150-year old Senate House at Madras University was built around the time Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was born. The Tsinghua Garden in Beijing’s Tsinghua University is over 100 years old. University campuses have evolved and expanded over time, and have often undergone additions, renovations and rebuilds to keep up with the times.

At a point in time now, when universities are being re-imagined, technology offers limitless access to different types of learning, challenging traditional methods and impacting the physical configuration of university campuses. The flexible campus of tomorrow will need to look nothing like the class-room centric campuses of today.

What if we had the opportunity to create, from the ground up and in one fell swoop, the university campus of the future? How would we provide an environment that embraces interwoven learning, and prepares new generations for the challenges of tomorrow? This requires a new type of university campus—one that puts the student at the heart of the experience and breaks down all the barriers and silos that are so much a part of traditional universities. We must conceive the whole campus as a laboratory, a library, an art gallery and, more generally, a place for learning.

The campus we architect today must stay relevant and effective for at least the next 100 years, which promises to be a period of change and complexity, orders of magnitude higher than the past 100 years. This is very much the challenge before us as we begin to design Krea University’s forthcoming 200-acre campus.

To begin with, we must envision a space model that creates shared learning clusters, interdisciplinary academic pavilions, a library that embraces technology and digital scholarship, and a distributed student centre that will create active student spaces throughout the campus—an academic high street.

We envisage a complete shift away from traditional classrooms to a range of active learning studios that support group working, and a wide range of learning and teaching approaches, with flexible furniture and technology in every studio. Blended learning will also be a key element in the student experience.

Technology must be at the heart of the campus of the future. Rather than traditional campuses, where buildings are often stand-alone entities, all buildings must be part of a connected smart campus system, with an integrated campus management system and real time management of building performance. A comprehensive and dynamic virtual learning environment could enhance student experience and support the development of learning communities. Agile timetabling will be linked to real-time analysis of space use across campus.

Libraries are a central theme in the evolution of universities. Academic libraries typically act as a repository for the university’s book and journal collection. Study spaces in libraries are generally designed to support individual study, and technology use is often restricted to open access computers for student use. On the contrary, the library of the future needs to be radically re-imagined—combining the library with a technology centre to facilitate information management, data visualization and digital scholarship. The library would contain a rich landscape of individual and group technology-enabled study settings, including a shared technology hub with augmented reality studios, simulation spaces and digital maker spaces.

The campus of the future will have no traditional academic faculty or departmental buildings. Faculty will be accommodated in a series of academic pavilions designed to support interdisciplinary research and learning, working with interdisciplinary staff grouped in research centres or teams. These work hubs will be designed to support collaboration as well as traditional individual scholarship. They will integrate faculty and graduate students and include learning commons as a place for students and faculty to interact, collaborate on projects and inspire each other.

From a design standpoint, the architectural master plan must conceptualize a built environment that is practical and responsible within its context. The campus must facilitate coherent relationships between landscape, academic and residential life and new advances in technology. It must seek a greater interaction between academic and residential functions, articulated through the outdoor space that offers opportunities for experimental learning; the campus becomes the classroom. This holistic approach to the campus will offer not only the high standards required of faculty buildings and housing, but also a repertoire of formal and informal spaces for learning and interaction. This would create a sustainable, useful and beautiful place of learning teaching and living.

This new approach to a university campus will support the evolution of needs by providing a flexible and adaptable environment capable of accommodating future priorities. Ultimately, the campus must congregate a community with the vision, culture and values to have a catalytic impact on society and its progress.

Kapil Vishwanathan and Lee Polisano are, respectively, vice-chairman of Krea University and president of PLP Architecture

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