The university campus of the future is both physical and digital

10th July 2020

Social distancing and slashed budgets are transforming the Higher Education sector, writes Sheppard Robson partner Rupert Goddard.

In these tough times, many universities and educational institutions are still grappling with the challenges of rethinking how they engage with students – and it is just too early to see what will happen in the longer term in any kind of detail. For some institutions, the situation could prove catastrophic, as the BBC reported on Monday.

However, I am pretty sure that whatever is in store for the sector will require the architect to be especially nimble, finding new ways of collaborating with other disciplines.

For example, what does an online curriculum (to which several universities have committed) look like? Architects will have to forge connections with digital agencies, who are well-versed in creating online user experiences, with architects helping shape these so that they complement the physical estates.

Thinking about the physical and digital campus as a blended experience is one way that architects can place themselves as the linchpin of change, the conductor of a new type of campus.

In my view, physical estates are still going to be essential in the long term: after all, if online-only learning were so attractive, why has the Open University not taken control of the market? Students still want a discursive form of learning that relies on interaction and a tribal feeling of togetherness; they still see the physical journey to a campus as an opportunity to engage positively with life and they need the social connections that the university experience brings.

But the spaces in which they come together are very likely to change, adapting to this new world we are discovering day by day – and architects have a significant role in this reshaping process.

The large lecture theatre, which was already fading in popularity, is likely to be superseded by a mixture of informal, short-term collaboration spaces, with lecture series available online. University support staff will increasingly choose to work from home, thereby reducing demand for the traditional office, which will open up opportunities for repurposing of space.

Architects are going to need to think more laterally, as universities will need their consultant teams to get the last drop of usefulness from every inch of their estates. This will see the creative re-use and repurposing of forgotten and tired buildings rise to the top of the agenda and institutions reshaped with reinvention and resourcefulness.

Read the full article in the Architects' Journal.

Read more about ID:SR and Sheppard Robson's thinking on reoccupation at out Covid-19 Restart Portal.