Campus Communities

Aaron is the Principal and Executive Director at Perkins Eastman. He has more than 25 years of experience in architecture. His award winning portfolio includes numerous projects for colleges and universities in United States and other countries. He is currently involved in designing some university projects in India

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Added 27th May 2010


In India, there are more students than seats available in institutions. This skewed ratio (of demand and supply) is leading to a state in which choices are diminishing for students. Fortunately, central government and private education providers are addressing this gap. Both parties are establishing institutions offering different experiencesat a price.

However, if there are more choices, there are also defined preferences. The current breed of students are more aware than their predecessors of what they wantthe best that their money can buy. While making a choice, factors such as cost, academic reputation and career placement are often the primary considerations for a student. However, the youth also place a lot of value on the quality of campus life and experiences it has to offer to them. After all, a campus promises to be their home for more than three years. Keeping this in mind, in the past decade, US institutions have been investing enormous sums of capital into residences and residential buildings to win an edge over the competition.

Most university and colleges in India continue to adhere to the age-old, plain hostel or dormitory living ideafew have graduated to residences. Hostel rooms or dormitories are generally placed in institutional blocks. Students sleep in smallish rooms with more than a single roommate. They share lavatories with several others, and consume meals in the large space designated as the canteen or cafeteriawhich is often in the same block as the hostel.

This routine lifestyle proves to be cost-effective for an institution, but is often an uninspiring way of living for a student.

Move To A Private World
However, the trend is reversing from the large to the small, from the impersonal to a more personal space in residential campuses the world over. Colleges and universities are carefully designing not only the area they are providing, but also the experience that students are likely to get in such spaces.

Some US colleges are concentrating on suite, or apartment-like residences. These new-age suite-like hostel facility includes a minimum number of bedrooms (comprising shared and single rooms), bathrooms, a living room and, in some cases, cooking facilities. These smaller facilities, universities and colleges believe, foster a greater bond among students. Residences (not your average hostel rooms) provide adequate space for both studying and informal interactions. Smaller private places provide a sense of ownership that results in students taking better care of the facility. Apart from these single more private rooms, new-age residences are also offering double rooms with bathroom facilities. This layout works well for campuses that rent out facilities for other functions when a school is not in session. If an institution is in a high-tourist area, or offers corporate training, these hotel-like rooms can be rented. In addition to the apartment suites, nowadays the residential buildings also include additional lounges that double up as study areas, cafs, recreational rooms and seminar rooms. Wi Fi connectivity is a must-have in these spaces. Though critics point out that these virtual interactions decrease one-to-one and face-to-face interactionleading to social withdrawalsmart designs in these spaces may also encourage interaction.

Large cafeterias and canteens with food-service lines and trays are being transformed into smaller dining spaces with more intimate settings. Private dining areas are increasingly including seminar areas where the faculty can hold an impromptu meet, while having their afternoon tea or a meal along with the students. Food service lines are disappearing. Food courts are being built in their places. There, young people are being offered different fare in different food stations. Depending on their market focus, college or university canteens nowadays resemble food courts (like those found in shopping malls), or buffet dining rooms (found in five-star hotels). Along with the physical space, the quality of food, too, is seeing a change.

De-compartmentalising Spaces
Colleges and universities are encouraging eccentric norms to enliven residential life. In the US, specific colleges use residential buildings, or areas within these buildings, to pursue specific academic interest or pursuit. Say a floor designated to a specific language will have students speaking only that language during certain periodscreating their out-of-classroom immersion programme. Based on regionalism, culture and traditionsresidential campuses may be further enlivened.

Typically, campuses are planned in such a manner that the residential areas are separated from the academic areas. But, the current trend is reversing this idea of compartmentalised spaces. Increasingly residential buildings are being placed closer to academic buildings. Universities are thus becoming a mix of residential and academic villages, providing a boost to interdisciplinary activitiestaking people far from their typical silos. With time, this trend will become more prominent, especially in dense urban areas where space is a luxury.

24/7 Community Living
Mixing the uses for a college or university residential building transforms it into a more vibrant community. And, it ensures a better use of space. Building a better residential environment for a student may not be the only way of attracting a student, but it is one of the more cardinal ones. Administrations have recognised that a large proportion of learning happens outside the confines of the formal classroom.

Therefore, designing that outside, the non-classroom environment, is cardinal. Designs should be such that they foster and encourage learning. This means creating engaging study spaces, and informal interaction areas. In many cases, a college experience is the first out-of-home experience for a student. There are institutions that require all first-year students to live on campus and in specific buildings together to facilitate important bonding experience.

After all, the relationships and bonds that are formed during this period, often keep an individual going for the rest of his, or her, life.

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