Universities worldwide are either in the midst of
welcoming students, faculty and staff back to campus or planning for their
We’ve been scrambling
ourselves to address the critically needed changes to facilities like signage,
separation screens, strategic placement of sanitizing supplies and HVAC
Operational changes, personnel
schedules, testing and illness evaluation regimens, and a host of restrictions
and suggested behavioral changes are being made.
Even so, most classes are being held
Institutions are learning as
they go, borrowing the best ideas (and discarding those that aren’t) from other
The “welcome back” documents I’ve
seen published by schools and businesses are lengthy.
The impact of the COVID-19 reality is
ADAPTING TO THE "NEW NORMAL"
Campus safety has always been paramount in every decision
we’ve made. But this new era brings this priority to the next level. So what does COVID mean in terms of existing
buildings? Forbes magazine recently
published a list of ten college space and function adaptations that they expect
to be the “new normal” for all of us moving forward. They include:
lecture halls and open spaces will become “mid-size” classrooms for
lecture-style classes. Universities have found reductions of up to 80% are
needed (i.e., a 100-person classroom now accommodates 20 students) to maintain
the recommended 6-ft. social distancing.
classrooms, of all sizes, will be modified to provide (a) options for physical
barriers between instructors and the class, (b) signage and/or floor markers
indicating required spacing of student seats, and (c) technology needed to
accommodate remotely located students (synchronous learning) and/or recording
of lectures (asynchronous learning).
conference rooms, teaching labs, and other shared spaces expected to see
reduced usage will be converted into small classrooms or multimedia studios for
will have designated entrance and exit doors rather than allowing all doors to
be used for both. Guidelines and signage will be used to direct personnel flow
(direction of movement) in all buildings. Hand sanitizing stations (and PPE
stations where appropriate) will be placed on all floors of all buildings.
halls will significantly reduce seating occupancies, relying instead on more
take-away service. To accommodate variety in meals available, dining services
may move to pre-ordering meals by a daily menu app. Self-serve food stations
will be eliminated. Some cafeteria-style service may be possible but only with
addition of barriers between food service workers and students. Indoor and
outdoor spaces elsewhere on campus may need to be added for students to eat
their take-away meals.
spaces (gyms, courts, pools, workout spaces, playing fields) will be strictly
controlled for access. Students will sign-up for times via an app.
hall density will be significantly reduced. All rooms will be transformed to
single occupancy. Common areas either be converted to additional single rooms
or restricted for use. Common bathrooms will have restrictions on occupancy. In
essence cutting the on-campus housing by half, colleges will be forced to
explore off-campus options (hotels, apartments) or consider the use of temporary
housing units. Those institutions that typically offer housing for students in
their first two years will only guarantee housing for first-year students.
Off-campus housing apartments will be marketed at a premium and the available
housing stock will quickly be tapped out.
houses and other social houses under the university’s jurisdiction will either
be forced to close or have severe restrictions for occupancy/use be placed upon
them. Off-campus or unofficial Greek or social houses may continue to exist
with limited or no restrictions, providing a nexus of unsanctioned activities
that attract large numbers on weekend evenings.
centers will see dramatic restructuring of their programming, usage, and
spaces. Maintained will be open areas for studying (with social distancing),
coffee and light food services (take-away), and student services offices.
Eliminated will be large dining or event spaces, dense retail (e.g.,
bookstores), restaurants and pubs, theaters, etc. Some spaces may be able to be
repurposed as classrooms or even student housing. Major student gatherings and
events will be held virtually or not at all.
athletics facilities will remain in use subject to decisions by the NCAA and
individual athletic conferences. However games will be played with very limited
(or no) spectators in attendance. Teams (athletes, coaches, staff, medical, and
supporting personnel) event/facility management personnel, and media personnel
will be subject to strict testing protocols. Indoor sports will be particularly
impacted by attendance restrictions. Virtual fan experiences will be created
for online audiences."
WHAT COMES NEXT?
While it’s almost impossible to imagine right now, what
of the “post-COVID” era? What do we
expect well into the future? How do we plan for what comes next? Physical distancing for safety fills available
space quickly; and will impact what kinds of space we can best utilize (e.g.,
open concept, efficient HVAC, enhanced flexibility).
One thing we know for sure is that the physical assets of
our institutions will continue to require ongoing modification, protection, and
repair. Reduced campus occupancies in
the near term may actually facilitate renovation in occupied buildings. And yet the need for new facilities to
support critical facilities like health care and research will continue. These critical functions have a direct
positive impact on the populace.
Investment in construction itself also helps sustain economic recovery.
A series of blog posts produced by Gensler outlines a
variety of impacts the pandemic will have on the future of the built
environment. A post related to highereducation asks the question: “In the
long-term, what can we learn from this experience that we can carry forward to
future-proof our campuses?” They suggest a paradigm shift, arguing that “this
crisis (is) a catalyst for change.” They
cite an observation that seems to becoming mainstream: “Schools won’t return to the status quo.
Everything — from building design and curriculum to operations and maintenance
— may need to adapt to a new normal.”
Some suggest it could be that way forever. We can’t assume the next pandemic (or
similarly dire circumstance) will wait another 100 years.
The office furniture giant Steelcase shared a research
piece titled “Designing Post-COVID Learning Spaces.” Never before has the value of physical
interaction in business and education meant more, now that such interaction is
not possible. The Steelcase article
As we look toward the future,
learning spaces will be reinvented to enhance the benefits that face-to-face
educational experiences can offer. Pedagogies and calendars will consider which
activities are best online and in person, and our spaces will need to reflect
those new priorities. There will be greater emphasis on safely supporting
social and spontaneous learning in addition to finding new ways to enhance a
scholarly atmosphere and energy in the physical environment that can’t be
This means educational space
planning paradigms of the past, driven by density and cost, need to shift.
Flexible and fluid spaces will better support the adaptability expected of
educators and students. And enhanced blended learning connections will bring
online and physical experiences together to create an elevated sense of
Many parents and student
supporters have come to realize the tremendous value of great educators and
educational systems during the pandemic. Learning institutions that have been
most successful have had a robust blended learning platform, student-led
educational experiences and have created a community of support for all
Those who try to hold too tightly to the past may fail to excel as
they try to navigate what’s next. In the future, schools and campuses will be
more important than ever.
Exactly how that new campus looks and what we will need
to do in order to build it and operate it safely will be the subject of future entries.