Trend in Higher Education: Collaborative Space on Campus

East View

By Tony Hsiao, AIA, LEED AP, Principal and Rebecca L. Berry, AIA, LEED AP, Senior Associate for High-Profile

A new satellite campus is in the works in Brockton, combining three colleges into one collaborative space. At Boston University, an honors college is building a “teaming space” atop a dorm. At UMass Amherst, a chapel is transforming into a flexible meeting place. The common theme: the creation of collaborative and team-oriented workspaces designed to preserve architectural character while enhancing student interaction. The three existing buildings — all being designed by Finegold Alexander Architects — vary greatly in architectural character. However, all three have similar social and educational missions and goals: a mix of flexible, innovative, and interactive student spaces for socialization and gathering, individual study, small/large group project rooms, and flexible lecture areas. The educational philosophy guiding this approach: to foster interdisciplinary education at the highest levels. Working with the educational leaders, campus planners and with student input, there are common elements:

• Team workspaces with smaller, semi-enclosed workrooms that open into larger social lounge/gathering areas.
• Cutting-edge technology, interactive walls, movable interactive white boards.
• Individual spaces variably fitted-out, some with movable boards.
• Mixed use of work stations, furniture, and even workbenches reconfigured as-needed to meet individual and/or group needs.
• Availability as needed, for one-time meetings or longer term projects, ranging from a few days to a semester.

Larger spaces for social interaction and technological use are included with:

• Flexible designs to encourage casual interdisciplinary interchanges in order to break down educational “silos.”
• Individual genius bar-like counters with “views” (one space overlooks the Charles River).
• Transformability from informal lounge area to flexible lecture space for up to 100 to 150 students.
• Adaptability for formal and informal lectures or social events, and conference rooms for five-person to 20-person group gatherings.

The preference is for rooms separated by glass — with transparent activity to the whole center. For single-floor spaces, glass/glazed walls separate semi-enclosed and conference rooms from the main gathering/lecture areas. In multifloor spaces, designs foster communication between the levels — through open stairs, double-height spaces, and glazing.

UMass. The long-vacant Old Chapel — on the National Register of Historic Spaces — will house student gathering and education space. The main floor will hold student-focused project spaces that open to a central gathering space featuring the latest technology. The upper floor will house a large, flexible gathering space for lectures and special events. A new glass entry addition with a double-height glazed lobby will allow visibility between the floors and a glimpse of the activity happening on each floor. The entry creates transparency and reinvigorates the interaction of the chapel with the campus.

Boston University. At the other end of the spectrum is this former hotel on an urban campus that now houses the 462-student Kilachand Honors College. This project restores what was a former rooftop dance pavilion by creating a new student-focused educational/work/social space.

Brockton Higher Education Collaborative Campus. This project is reusing an empty historic building on Main Street for an innovative campus sponsored by UMass Boston, Bridgewater State University, and Massasoit Community College. The goal is to create a diverse, multidisciplinary higher education center that includes breakout spaces and flexible classrooms.

The project consists of transparent learning centers — a large open stair connects the main floors, social spaces are located at the front of the building along the Main Street as well as social gathering terrace at the back of the building. Collaboration, flexibility, technology, and transparency — using renewed historic architectural spaces engenders new thinking about the reuse of “old” buildings and their ability to serve as comfortable, thoughtful, and encouraging backdrops for our next generation of learners and leaders.

Tony Hsaio is principal and design director at Finegold Alexander Architects, Rebecca Berry is a senior associate.

To read the full High-Profile article, click here.

Click on the project name to learn more about: Boston University’s Kilachand Hall, Umass’s Old Chapel, and the Brockton Higher Education Collaborative.