University Facilities More Important than Academic Reputation

Melbourne University Design School

Melbourne University Design School

As thousands of students around the country are beginning to find their feet at their new universities, a recent report from the Association of University Directors of Estates (AUDE) on student experience inquired into what factors are the most significant in the minds of potential students when choosing their university. There are, of course, many reasons why students would pick a university and most people would probably think that the institutions academic status would be the most important. Although important, the report found that the academic ranking and reputation of a university is becoming a less decisive factor. Instead, it is a universities facilities and social spaces, such as cafes and food halls, which are now considered more important than academic prestige.

We have been responsible for designing many new university facilities – both social and educational – up and down the country for many years and although interesting, the finding from the AUDE wasn’t particularly surprising. Due to our people-centred research and design process, we have talked directly with over a thousand students who have told us that the design of facilities and spaces has a direct impact on their satisfaction and well-being. The spaces and places in which we spend our time working, studying or socialising have an impact on us. We are, after all, products of our environment. Furthermore, through our own research over the years, we have found that a university’s facilities, from buildings facades to cafes and libraries, can reflect, uphold and reinforce the soft-targets of identity and community which are particularly important for students.

This finding from the AUDE also highlights a trend that, although not new, has become more apparent in recent years: students don’t go to universities just to learn, they go for the experience, and with the hike in tuition fees in England and Wales, they demand value for money. It is increasingly important, therefore, for universities to develop a clear identity which the facilities can reflect and uphold. Designing spaces and places in this way helps to create a strong brand that current and potential students can buy into. We are glad universities are beginning to recognise that the design of their facilities is extremely important to the student experience, and as chair of the AUDE, Trevor Humphreys says: “Effective estate management is key to ensuring higher education institutions deliver the best possible student experience, both academically and socially.”

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Pumpkin Carving Comp

cwgc_5uwgaawmpoIt’s been a tense atmosphere in the office over the last 24 hours as we have awaited the final votes in our annual Pumpkin competition. The votes have now been counted and verified and we can announce, hot off the press, that Scott was a convincing winner with his Day of the Dead inspired Pumpkin. Not even the dreaded Trumpkin came close, which we hope is a good omen for next week. Congratulations Scott!

Where’s Nomad?

This week due to a large but pleasant quantity of work all of our team are on site with different projects, and the studio is closed until Friday 28th October.  We are all still answering mobile calls and emails so do please still get in touch. If you don’t have a mobile number or email for one of our team, get in touch with us at info@nomad-rdc.com.

Thanks

Nomad Team.

Work Experience Placement

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Last week Mhairi Goldsbrough joined us for a week-long work experience placement from Gryffe High School in Houston. Mhairi was asked to respond to a brief where she was required to produce concept sheets and sketches for a student-focused Study Club and Café. We think Mhairi did a great job and we’re currently munching our way through the giant box of sweets she kindly left us. Thank you Mhairi!


 

Case Study: GCU Flowers and Lace

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LaceFence screen with an Iris Foetidissima handwoven pattern

A new academic year is underway, and the finishing touches have been added to Glasgow Caledonian University’s Heart of Campus project. Over the summer period, the remaining elements of the Restaurant and Study Club spaces were installed, and we are pleased to see how well they work now that the students have returned and the campus is fully occupied.

If you have followed the story of the Heart of Campus on our blog or website, you will know that we opened up the entire ground floor area of the George Moore Building which created a blank canvas for the main restaurant space. Some bold design decisions were made for this space, including the huge installation of a timber slatted ceiling, a central wash-up space designed to resemble a boulder and some intricate lace fence screens which have only just been fully installed.

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6-panel sliding screens with Dicentra or Lamprocapnos spectabilis

Opening up the space created an opportunity to populate the floorplate with a range of islands generating different types of spaces for different activities. The main walkways are highlighted in different materials and bespoke fitted furniture is used to define the perimeters of these islands. Some spaces are relatively open and can cater to groups of different sizes; others are more intimate and suitable for study or informal meetings.

To emphasise the delineations, we proposed a series of screens, some of which are formed as an extrusion of the timber slatted ceiling above. To provide a contrast to the timber we sought a complementary screening solution that would reflect the landscaped courtyards that flank the restaurant, and in doing so, form a connection between the external and internal spaces on campus. Churchman Landscape Architects based their designs for the courtyards around the 19th-century discoveries of the ‘Scottish Plant Hunters’. In consultation with Chris Churchman; key plants, flowers and trees were identified as starting points for the screens.

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LaceFence screen with Pseudotsuga Menziesii (douglas fir cones)

LaceFence / De Makers Van are a design company with bases in Amsterdam and Rotterdam. The material they produce is constructed from standard chain-link fencing material that transcends its usual industrial aesthetic with the addition of hand woven patterns that are incorporated into the linkage. Standard patterns are available, but we opted to supply LaceFence with images of the plants and flowers from the Plant Hunters concept. Once LaceFence had converted the images into patterns, the screens were then fabricated by hand at their facility in India.

It took a little work to convince our clients of the suitability of this hitherto industrial product. However, once students involved in our collaborative design meetings saw the material their enthusiasm proved compelling.  We are delighted with the final result and believe that the restaurant is another facility which sets GCU apart as one of the most innovative and design aware Universities in the UK.

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4-panel sliding screens with Dicentra or Lamprocapnos spectabilis alba

 

The Grass is Always Greener

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Millikan Laboratory and Andrew Science Hall, Pomona College, California, USA By EHDD Architecture

For years now, in every campus we have visited we have watched students sitting on the steps of buildings chatting, reading books or improvising impromptu study spaces on lawns. It’s no surprise to see this really as most people enjoy reading a book, meeting with friends or having a coffee outdoors and without wishing to get too long winded there is a great deal of research and theory regarding our connection to the natural world and the de-stressing effect this has on us.

We are always being challenged by our clients to think about new types of spaces that would significantly improve the student experience, and for several years we have been exploring the notion of outdoor learning spaces. Many students we have spoken to have highlighted how sheltered outdoor areas would ideally allow them to read, write, have meetings and group discussions, or even hold informal lectures and tutorials outdoors, creating a functional and not just aesthetically pleasing campus.

Although we often recommended the concept of outdoor learning to universities, few are willing to take such a bold step, and we think that this is a lost opportunity. The continuing expansion of universities across the UK is putting pressure on existing learning space. Whether indoors or outdoors, space is a valuable asset on university campuses and outdoor learning environments could provide a new and exciting opportunity. Moreover, the drive for increased cross-departmental collaboration seen recently in Higher Education could be aided by making these common spaces inhabitable, turning the whole campus into a learning landscape where people from all backgrounds can meet either by design or by accident and share ideas. Our research has also shown that there is a clear link between the design of campuses, their buildings and facilities, and student and staff recruitment and satisfaction. Such innovative spaces would almost certainly give universities a competitive edge.

Our team have been actively researching outdoor learning spaces for some time now, and as part of our tenth-anniversary celebrations, we will be creating the blueprints for a range of experimental spaces. Our ideas range from more formal, sheltered study spaces, to considered and informal landscaping that creates environments where students can take ownership and make the space their own. During our research phase we unearthed some great examples of outdoor spaces some of which have been designed specifically for learning, and some which we think could inspire future outdoor learning environments and we thought we would share these with you. We would love to hear any ideas that you might have on this topic or any successes or failures that you might have come across.

 

Nomad Gets Meta

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Over the past ten years, Nomad has carried out many diverse and wide-ranging research projects into the types of spaces, places and people that make up educational institutions up and down the country. Although every educational establishment is unique, offering their subject specialism and expertise, their own identities, communities, and culture, we are aware that there are strong commonalities that exist between them. Uncovering these commonalities can help to show what are the most important themes that keep recurring from institution to institution.

As a design studio which places research at the heart of our process, we felt there was no better way of uncovering these themes than to carry out a research project into our research projects. (…how much more meta can you get?!) This meta-analysis will look at ten projects of our over the past six years to draw out the overarching themes which tie these projects together.

Through such a self-reflective process we hope to reveal design principles that will not only help to guide future projects but will inform and improve the range of services that we provide. We carried out a similar process back in 2011 which has proved valuable in providing solid evidence-based information as a foundation for our projects.  Now after a decade of research, we have amassed a wealth of information that provides a unique insight into the design of educational spaces.

It’s fascinating – if not a little nostalgic – to be going over our projects again and we look forward to sharing the outcome.