Designing for Education at Multiple Scales

Architects and designers of college and university buildings increasingly have a heady task. Higher education clients are pushing design professionals to consider both big-picture issues related to an institution’s place on a campus or within a city, as well as the details of how interiors will foster an optimal environment for teaching, learning, and research.

In this issue, we feature four excellent examples of the best in higher education design, including three projects that are new construction of schools of business, law, and life sciences. To be sure, design solutions are varied, but there are commonalities in these projects that are lessons for where education design is today. These lessons are relevant for all readers, no matter the project type that you are focused on, because we all know that design strategies in one typology can influence many others. And, pragmatically, the design of these buildings will influence the students who will soon become the decision makers in the workforce.

With the work highlighted in this issue, here are key elements of design for higher education that are most significant.

Place-making and recognizing context
Each featured project is designed to connect with its location and place—both visually and in terms of the building presence and scale. Walsh College in Troy, Michigan, has been reconceived by Valerio Dewalt Train Associates to be attractive from the road and to be a beacon at night for its mostly evening students. Ennead Architects, in association with Jones Studio, designed Arizona State University’s Beus Center for Law and Society to be one with its downtown Phoenix environment. The Loyola Marymount University (LMU) Life Sciences Building by CO Architects weaves sustainable design strategies into its Los Angeles campus setting. And a former Toronto hotel with proximity to several colleges and universities has become a welcome home for students called the Parkside Student Residence by Diamond Schmitt Architects.

Indoors and outdoors as one
Two of the projects in warm locales—the Beus Center for Law and Society and the LMU Life Sciences Building—take full advantage of the climate with multiple outdoor spaces. Rather than simply an open-air patio adjacent to the building at ground level, both of these schools feature fluid connections between indoors and outdoors that are explicit and well-woven with terraces at varied levels. In this way, the experience of studying or simply sitting outdoors is a norm rather than a rarity. And while the Toronto climate is harsh in winter, the Parkside Student Residence connects with its city context with a large glass-enclosed volume that overlooks the street.

Know your student body
Each project was designed with a keen insight into the school’s student body. Walsh College is primarily for adults attending school at night, so the feel is sophisticated and welcoming during evening hours for busy professionals. The leadership at Beus Center for Law and Society expect its law students to engage with the people of the city, so the school is an integrated aspect of the urban context rather than an unapproachable academic structure.

Flexibility and connectivity inside
Inside, each of the buildings is designed to encourage exploration, connection, and collaboration, with active learning and greater student-faculty interaction in mind. Laboratories are highly visible within the LMU Life Sciences Building, where science and research is openly on display. Bleachers have become common for education interiors, and at Beus Center for Law and Society they can be folded away for more varied seating arrangements. Flexibility is essential, with spaces readily adapted for different uses within a given day. Taken together, the college and university interiors in this issue represent the most progressive aspects of higher education design.

Enter the Inspirations Awards
For architecture and design firms that have completed recent projects for a worthy cause, I encourage you to enter the work in the Inspirations Awards. Sponsored by Tarkett and presented by Contract, the awards honor projects that practice initiatives that are socially responsible. A $5,000 grant from Tarkett will be awarded to the client of the winner of the built project category. The entry deadline is April 21. Visit to learn more and to enter.

John Czarnecki, Assoc. AIA, Hon. IIDA
Editor in Chief