When students return to their campuses (hopefully, this fall) it will be with a different mindset and new concerns shaped by our ongoing experience with a global pandemic. But some of the foremost health, environment, and community building concerns were already on the radar screen for this generation of students. And these priorities are shaping the design of their residence halls in ways that will continue to evolve.
Higher education is now, more than ever, about a holistic education. As colleges and universities evolve and more effectively integrate new technologies, learning is happening everywhere, and as frequently in the residential setting as the classroom.
Effectively designing a college residence environment requires understanding tomorrow’s students. What do they value? How do they live their lives?
Above all, these incoming college students are searching for Authenticity. Students want to see their values reflected in these spaces. Students want to live their best life; even pre-pandemic, that meant a healthy life. Students want pop up fitness classes and exercise equipment in their residence, juice bars and healthy snacks in the on-site café, and bathrooms that support grooming as part of wellness.
In the Greta Thunberg age, almost every student enters college as an environmental advocate. Energy efficient buildings are a must, and they advocate for eliminating the use of fossil fuels and being ahead of the pack on the use of renewable technologies. Blending building and lifestyle, there is interest in roof or community gardens, on-site composting, access to car sharing services and electric vehicles.
Scaling up the home experience is also important. Today’s residence halls are exciting, dynamic spaces that offer a wide variety of interests rather than just a place to sleep. This means incorporating on-site dining, particularly recognizing that sharing quality food is a necessary part of the social experience. This generation that grew up watching food competition shows wants demonstration kitchens where the dining experience is hands on and interactive.
No longer does a single, utilitarian “common area” work as the shared space focal point. Now we build in flexible maker spaces, music spaces and recording studios for digitally shared content, and communal viewing spaces (for both streaming movies and student produced content).
Most critical is considering the way education is evolving. The classroom experience is now augmented by video-content consumed anywhere and anytime. Assignments are made and produced in many forms of media, not just written text. Residential rooms need to be designed to reflect that students are learning differently, supporting roommates listening to classroom lectures with their ear buds simultaneously.
It is too soon to make any authoritative predictions about how this current pandemic will change those dynamics, but our desire and need to physically be together will not diminish. That means residential spaces have to be as flexible and integrated as the young people who live in them.
This article was first published on LinkedIn on April 27, 2020.
Header Photo: © Brad Feinknopf