University Architect – Builder / Steward / Shaper

The roles and responsibilities of a university architect ebb and flow with changes in administration and each particular project. When fast and cheap are valued, the role is to build short-term solutions. If investment in the future is intended a balance of stewardship and creativity is required.

Fluid Environments – Expectations vary for each campus and project. They swing through a wide range, project to project and campus to campus. This dynamic can make a university architect feel the need to be a like a chameleon, shifting from one context to another. In one setting the responsibilities are direct implementation according to established rules. In another, extensive consultation and consideration of long-term consequences are expected. Continue reading

Academic Libraries – Lee Van Orsdel

Academic libraries have long shown the signs of digital transformation. The card catalogue was the first old friend to leave the building. Online resources have grown exponentially.  Millions of unused books are being removed from active holdings.  A wave of construction is transforming academic libraries into vibrant hubs of campus activity and community – no longer cul-de-sacs of paper.

Often lost in the glitzy stories of architecture, trendy furniture and high tech gadgetry are the leaders and the ideas that are at the heart of the transformation. Now on the stage are Lee Van Orsel and a generation of academic librarians leading and sometimes pulling their organizations and institutions into a future that is both physical and digital.  They share a passion for the reinvention of libraries for people not paper, for access not control.

Lee and I talked at the Re-think It: Libraries for a New Age Conference at Grand Valley State University. Hers is a story of mission before place, changing academic culture before changing architecture and throughout serving to the needs of students and faculty. There are lessons here for all campus planners and designers.

Academic Libraries: Making Place for Goog-azon-bucks

Pew InteriorIf the student is at the center of the higher education business model, the library is where she is sitting. The library is changing around her and her colleagues. Library leaders are transforming academic libraries into 21st century agoras – open meeting and working places – rather than gated cul-de-sacs for storing paper.

This transformation was explored at the Re-think It: Libraries for a New Age Conference at Grand Valley State University. Hundreds of public and academic librarians from across the country met to share ideas on the reinvention of libraries about people not paper, about access not control. Speakers included Elliot Felix, Lee Van Orsdel and Lennie Scott-Webber.   Continue reading

Future of the Campus in a Digital World

2 by 1 by 3As the need for synchronous place and time evaporates, the physical campus must provide values that are not available by other means. Campuses need to be transformed as if their survival were at stake.

Future of the Campus in a Digital World. is my assessment of the state of the campus at the close of 2014.  It is in the form of a 10 page pdf.  I hope you will share it with your colleagues and let me know your thoughts.

Digital Visible

Hunt Library Int.2.wcThe physical implications of the digital transformation of higher education are becoming visible. Classrooms and libraries are being retooled in response to changes in basic assumptions that have guided campus development for more than a century. Student housing and campuses are evolving in response to social media and the changing use patterns of members of the campus community.  From classrooms to libraries to residence halls, digital transformation is changing the physical presence and requirements of each institution.

Continue reading

Guest Commentary by Duke Oakley

The long term survivability of traditional higher education is in doubt.  MOOC’s, SPOC’s and digital disruption are ideas prominently in play.  Yet the value of physical campus, however difficult to define, endures.  Duke Oakley, former UCLA Campus Architect and Assistant Vice Chancellor for Design and Construction, has written an extensive Guest Commentary on the continued relevance of the college campus. [link]

Charles Warner Oakley is a graduate of Dartmouth and the University of Pennsylvania.  From 1986 to 2000, he was Campus Architect and Assistant Vice Chancellor for Design and Construction at the University of California – Los Angeles.  During his tenure, he guided the planning of the campus and the design of more than 4.5 million square feet of new building area and renovation of more than 3 million square feet.

“Duke” as his friends and colleagues know him, is a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects and an emeritus member of the Association of University Architects. 

The Full Bundle

Student circle.umn.2013In the regulated monopolies of cable television, the consumer has little choice and gets the full bundle.  In the emerging landscape of higher education, the consumer has many choices.  From the piece-by-piece approach of DIY-U, to traditional institutions adding MOOC’s to hybrid models such as Minerva, conventional business models that depend on old-fashioned bundling are under threat.

Buying college used to be like buying cable – to get the degree you wanted, you had to buy courses, schedules and features you didn’t want.  Higher education bundling requires additional payments without direct personal benefit, just like paying for 500 TV channels when all you want are local stations, ESPN and Comedy Central.  Cable is still bundled, but the unbundling of higher education is gaining momentum.

Objective measurement of the costs and benefits of higher education will drive part of the unbundling process.  The rapidly evolving array of on-line options is enabling unbundling and fostering further pedagogical innovation and experimentation.  Employers are looking for talent beyond degrees, and accrediting organizations are not keeping up.  Many of the current full bundles will look like bad investments of time and money. Continue reading

Hollowed Halls

Empty lecture hall.sepiaThe empty lecture hall is just one sign of redesign in higher education.  Substituting digital formats for large live lectures is the simplest and earliest stage of higher education redesign.  This process of substituting synthetic for real will take several years and there will be many failed experiments.  Whether in the mega courses offered by Coursera and their ilk, or the burgeoning number of asynchronous on-line offerings of traditional institutions, the availability of higher education is rapidly expanding beyond the traditional constraints of geography and time.  Almost all of the expansion is digital.

The good news is that most of these new digital forms are no worse – and are often better – than the large traditional lecture hall formats.  Most would agree that expanded access to higher education is a good thing for most of the planet’s population.  Daphne Koller considers it to be inappropriate to compare Coursera’s offerings [and other digital products] to face-to-face interaction with the best faculty members.  The only fair comparison is access versus no access. Continue reading

Preserving what?

While they continue at full speed, higher education institutions face the challenge of remaking themselves.  In the coming years this will shift from cosmetic tweaking to preserving the best and losing the rest.

It is difficult to identify those ‘best’ characteristics without sounding nostalgic and all rah-rah.  Perhaps everyone can identify a few special conversations with a mentor who has influenced our lives, moments of insight that have dotted our academic careers, and enriching experiences that we have shared with classmates or colleagues.  Until quite recently these events always happened in a specific place and ‘real time.’  It may not always be so. Continue reading