Volume 80 | Issue 1
January 2012

Summit offers new approach to campus facilities planning

Oct. 16–18, the Association of College Unions International convened 50 thought leaders for a think tank at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Representatives from 10 higher education associations, as well as industry partners in architecture, planning, interiors, and dining, discussed the future of campus facilities planning and the role that physical space plays in shaping community and student learning.

The event, called “Physical Place on Campus: A Summit on Building Community,” marked the first time multiple higher education and design professionals have met to discuss this topic. In addition to ACUI, participants represented:

  • Association of College and University Housing Officers–International (ACUHO-I)
  • Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL)
  • College Student Educators International (ACPA)
  • American Institute of Architects Committee on Architecture for Education (AIA)
  • International Interior Design Association (IIDA)
  • Leadership in Educational Facilities (APPA)
  • National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA)
  • Society for College and University Planning (SCUP)
  • Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (NASPA)

The summit asserted that engagement and interaction outside the classroom are fundamental to learning, and that a sense of community and exposure to others are hallmarks to a well-rounded education. Attendees worked in cross-functional focus groups to challenge traditional assumptions regarding campus facilities planning and propose new approaches to designing space to achieve stronger forms of campus community.

Loren Rullman, associate vice president for student affairs at the University of Michigan–Ann Arbor, and Jan van den Kieboom, principal of Milwaukee-based Workshop Architects, first envisioned the summit concept in 2006. By inviting diverse perspectives that do not typically meet on this topic, the pair hoped to reach across traditional professional and association boundaries to assert that achieving stronger forms of community is an educational imperative, and to challenge conventional approaches to facilities planning.

Summit participants concluded facilities planning is too often conducted within arbitrary campus silos and reporting lines.

“What if we broke down some of the terms, labels, and barriers that we currently have in our society, in higher education, and in community?” asked James Carlson, executive director of School Factory Inc. “What if the distinction between student and teacher were dissolved? What if places for creative encounters were spread out throughout campus, but still preserved the overall sense of  community?”

Another theme was that to build community, greater cooperation must occur between campus leaders, architects, and designers.

“On a college campus, there are so many different pockets of community. And we rarely talk to one another,” said Terry Calhoun, director of publications at the Society for College and University Planning. “So what if everyone on campus who works on building community could get together and talk to one another, share their definitions, share their best practices, and not worry about who gets the credit?”

Additionally, participants discussed how rigid expectations about building typology can constrain changing ideas about design and community. They also expressed the ways in which campus policies can have as powerful a negative effect on community as physical design has a positive effect. Finally, they called for higher education to change the ways in which they think about physical space and community.

“There is danger in indifference or contentment with the status quo. Our current practices are not always what we should have as our current practices,” said Hali Buck, at-large member of the ACUI Board of Trustees and Indiana University master’s candidate in the higher education and student affairs program. “George Kuh talks about the idea of being ‘positively restless,’ and I believe this approach will benefit us in our approach to building community.”

Speakers invited to provoke thought included Peter DeLisle, professor of leadership at Austin College; Eric Stoller, higher education consultant and technologist; Lawrence Abrahamson, senior designer at IDEO; and James Carlson, founder of The School Factory and Bucketworks co-working environments in Milwaukee.

Summit participants unanimously called for higher education to plan across typical institutional boundaries, and for additional meetings and conversations to occur. They also proposed an inter-association consortium for campus community.

The summit was underwritten with support from Herman Miller, Chartwells, Brailsford & Dunlavey, Workshop Architects, the Wisconsin Union of the University of Wisconsin, and the ACUI Education and Research Fund.

Presentations will be available to participating associations and summit partners in January, and a detailed report from the summit will be released in March.