How Can Architecture & Design Affect Higher Education?

Butler University College of Education

Butler University – College of Education at CTS

If you’ve spent any amount of time on a well-designed, beautifully constructed university campus, then you understand the importance of architecture when it comes to influencing higher education. Not only can architecture inspire imagination and creativity, but it can unite students, teachers, and the community to create a space that feels energized, organic, and magnetic.

There are several ways architects can influence the way a higher education building is interpreted by the people who will use it every day. Considering there are more than 21,000 universities across the globe (and hundreds more currently being constructed), this specific design niche makes a notable footprint in the world’s landscape.

Can a design help make students more successful? Can architecture unite people from diverse backgrounds and beliefs?

We think so.

Here are a few ways that architecture and design directly affect higher education:

Vertical Spaces. Because many higher education campuses and their buildings are so large, it’s easy for designs to focus on the outward, horizontal sprawl. And, while often beautiful to look at, there’s a feeling of being “lost in a crowd” that can make these types of buildings and spaces less than conducive to interaction and collaboration. Instead, higher education facilities can look to find ways to build up – not out. These vertical spaces, when designed for students and staff in particular, become a powerful magnet for interaction, allowing individuals on campus to feel less “lost” and more as part of the crowd.

Cross-Pollination. Traditionally, most higher education campuses were divided into “schools”, separating one group of students and its professors from another. However, new facilities or those undergoing renovation and restoration are re-thinking this concept. Rather than sectioning people away from each other, as if some sort of quarantine is in place, new buildings and spaces are being designed so that students and staff from different disciplines have an opportunity to interact. This can take shape in many ways, but some of the most interesting are a sort of tunnel-bridge concept that connect buildings on multiple levels.

Natural Light. The more light you let in, the more successful you will be. Or, at least, that’s what many studies are confirming. In addition to more success, natural light is said to make people happier, reduce stress, and combat illness as well. By finding ways to allow more natural light in, higher education facilities can improve the environment for everyone working and learning on campus. In addition to natural light, which can be let in by windows and skylights, creating spaces that are truly light-filled, such as a wall of windows or clear walls, can help make studying and meetings more enjoyable.

Student-Centric. Students want to feel like they belong at their university or college – and that’s something that great design can accomplish. When creating a space, architects should look at developing areas that are convenient for students to enjoy. Places to safely store laptops and personal items in between lectures, attractive lobbies with comfortable and adaptable furniture, as well as large seating areas where bigger study or friend groups can meet will help to bolster the attitude and loyalty of students on campus.

Skip-Stop Strategy. In order to create healthy, vibrant spaces on higher ed campuses, architects should look for ways to incorporate the “skip-stop” strategy. The idea behind this concept is to help students and staff circulate easily, offering more opportunities for exercise as well as those chance encounters with friends and acquaintances. A notable innovation are skip-stop elevators, which only stop on certain floors, encouraging individuals to use the stairs. In cases where the stairs are designed in conjunction with this strategy, you can develop staircases that are grand, wide, filled with light, and a natural place to stop and chat. In order to be ADA compliant and for employee convenience, there must be a secondary elevator option which does stop on each floor.

Outdoor Strips. Acting as gateways to campus, large outdoor strips can be an inviting way to welcome students and visitors. They’re also the perfect place to host sports activities and large gatherings. Beautiful to walk through, these strips are also another way to bring the campus community together on a daily basis.

When designed and built with the intention to inspire the next generation, there’s no limit to how beneficial architecture can be on higher education campuses.

Hands-On Healthcare Education

What makes a successful learning environment for training much-needed healthcare providers? Facilities geared toward experiential learning! Students today must learn differently while new information is being generate faster than ever before. Designers of healthcare teaching facilities are tasked with creating flexible, experiential learning environments to fulfill this need, and Schmidt Associates has worked with many collegiate partners to create facilities to train future healthcare providers.

Experiential learning requires flexible, hi-tech classrooms and laboratories, as well as unstructured learning spaces.

Classrooms must accommodate:

  • state-of-the art technology for technical medical equipment and information,
  • distance learning
  • digital display
  • flexible furniture for collaborative and varied learning
  • enough wireless data capacity for 4-6 devices per student

Marian University COM Classroom

Laboratories must address the many needs of simulation equipment, including technology to run high-fidelity mannequins, adequate space for medical furnishings and equipment, and appropriate infrastructure for simulated gasses and utilities.

Labs also need multiple support spaces: storage for equipment and supplies, information, display and set up space, and potentially small group meeting space. All of these may double the space need for laboratories.

Ivy Tech Franklin

Unstructured spaces are the “accidental” learning spaces that allow students to continue a learning moment with faculty, study in peer social groups, and study on their own while still feeling part of a larger learning group. Breakout spaces, extra large corridors, coffee bars, and lobby areas all provide space for enhanced learning and positive community building.

Marian COM Lounge


Schmidt Associates truly understands these varied learning environments and has expertise in uniting them into cohesive facilities. From the recently opened Marian University Michael A. Evans Center for Health Sciences (housing the first Catholic College of Osteopathic Medicine in the country), the Ivy Tech Dental Lab in Anderson that serves its community through free and reduced-cost dental care, the Marchant School of Nursing in Bloomington, and the IU Student Health Clinic, hands-on health science facilities are critical to addressing our healthcare crisis.

Ivy Tech Anderson Dental Clinic

As our population continues to grow and age, healthcare education is increasingly important to remedy the shortage of personnel to serve unique and changing healthcare needs. Higher education institutions have stepped up to fill this gap, and collaborative, hands-on training has become the standard pedagogy for medical, nursing and dental school programs.

If we can help transform your facility into an interactive environment for future healthcare professionals, reach out!

Designing Residence Halls Specifically for the Student

Integrating specific academic environments into four Ball State University Residence Halls was a key early design consideration for the combined $101 million projects. There was an opportunity to completely renovate the 50-some-year-old buildings to create an interplay between pre-millennial student lifestyle, academic, and career interests while also optimizing for energy efficiency. By adding the latest technologies, new amenities, and flexible design elements into the residence halls, a new sense of camaraderie and function can be seen throughout.

Here’s a synopsis for each:

Botsford/Swinford Residence Hall – Emerging Media Center

Size: 164,000 square feet
Cost: $27,800,000

  • Audio and video production studios
  • New lounge spaces
  • Demonstration kitchen—enables guest chefs to demonstrate food skills including healthy eating and unique cooking styles
  • Original structure was demolished to its concrete frame and foundation
  • It was designed for LEED Silver certification and received LEED Gold certification.



Schmidt/Wilson Residence Hall – A Living-Learning Community for Dance, Theatre, and Design Students

Size: 154,000 square feet
Cost: $33,000,000

  • Two-story lounge spaces and central lounge with a performance area
  • Dance studio, black box theatre, computer lab, fitness room, and drawing room
  • Strong sense of collaboration and camaraderie
  • The new facility re-images the entry into campus where students are center stage
  • Currently in review for LEED certification.



Studebaker East Residence Hall – Creating A Home-Away-From-Home For International Students

Size: 109,746 square feet
Cost: $18,450,000

  • Student collaboration is enhanced through a new multi-purpose room and three two-story lounge spaces
  • Lounges are equipped with kitchens so students can share cultural foods
  • Provided a sense of community for present and future students
  • New highly-efficient mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and technology systems throughout the building resulted in LEED Gold Certification.

Studebaker East


DeHority Residence Complex – Collaborative Spaces for Honors College Students

Size: 131,072 square feet
Cost: $21,920,000

  • Integrating social, learning, and living space so dedicated honor students can combine interests and ambitions
  • Semi-private restrooms with lockers. Each room has stackable furniture and adjustable wardrobe closets
  • Students can take advantage of the exhibition hall for meetings and presentations
  • Ball State’s first LEED Silver certified building on campus.


Like what we did? Need someone for your next project? Let’s Talk!


Synthetic Turf Fields 101

It always pays to know the advantages and disadvantages before making a big change for your facility. Deciding to switch from natural to synthetic turf is a good example of that. Synthetic turf fields are gaining popularity among sporting and recreational venues because of the lower maintenance costs and the perk of year-round use. However, natural turf is still here to compete with it’s lower upfront costs. So which is right for your facility?

Kyle Miller, Principal, Project Manager, and our expert on the topic, breaks it all down for you.

Also, check out our infographic comparing synthetic and natural turf


Getting Real About Value Engineering

“Value engineering” is perhaps the most overused and under-realized term in the design/construction industry today. It has become the catch bucket for any exercise that involves reducing costs.

By definition, value is the ratio of function to cost. Value is increased by improving function or reducing cost. A great example: the benefit analysis of solar shading provided by extending the overhang of a roof. Using Building Information Modeling (BIM) and special software programs, we can determine the optimum energy savings obtained from shading by applying the most cost-effective roof extension (the ratio of function to cost). Our analysis identifies the point of diminishing return – the point when the increased cost of the roof begins to yield lower shading benefit. This is value engineering.

In contrast, most references to a “value-engineering exercise” are in reality a “cost-reduction exercise.” It involves compiling a list of items (or functions) to eliminate from the project, thereby reducing cost. This is not necessarily a bad thing to do. In fact, it is often an unavoidable part of any project since needs and wants are almost always greater than budgets. However, calling it “value engineering” is a misnomer because the function is eliminated along with the cost.

It is important to recognize that value can be lost with the cost reduction. This often occurs when a function that yields a long-term benefit (reduced energy or operational cost) is eliminated to provide an initial cost reduction. A clear understanding of the difference between “value engineering” and “cost reduction” helps avoid decisions with unintended consequences or “de-value engineering.”

Making Art a Priority

How do you balance two priorities for a new building: a need for high-tech learning and the desire for a beautiful and inspiring space? It’s working at the new Evans Center for Health Sciences at Marian University. The building was recognized at the Monumental Affair with an Achievement Award in the Public Art category in 2013.

Rain Garden Walkway

It was natural to include the latest in learning and medical technology for the home of a new osteopathic medical school and Marian’s School of Nursing. But Marian University also chose to make the building an artistic expression of Catholic values and holistic, nurturing medical care. The art will be a permanent part of the structure, long after the technology has been replaced by the next generation.

It was great fun for us to create a space that is both high-tech and inspiring.  And as advocates of sustainability, we love that the Chapel furniture was crafted from walnut trees cleared from the site to make room for construction. Weberding’s Carving Shop created custom walnut chairs, candle stands and other furniture pieces from these trees.


We invite you to notice the facility’s distinctive features as you drive by 30th Street and Cold Spring Road. Better yet, walk inside to get an up-close view. Take your time. Soak it in. Enjoy the work of local artists.

Here’s a mini-tour of what to look for:

  • The San Damiano Cross – Stained glass panels on the southeast corner’s “lantern” represent the San Damiano Cross. The mix of color and translucent panels washes color throughout the space and allows people in the building to see outside, and people outside to glimpse what’s going on inside, linking students with their environment.

Board Room

  • DNA representations – A DNA strand is represented in the terrazzo pattern of the curvilinear circulation path; the donor wall and a wood feature wall that anchors a centralized open staircase were conceptualized from DNA markers and are key focal points in the open commons.
  • Relief Mural – A cast stone relief mural by artist Jay Tschetter of Nebraska conveys the Biblical story of St. Francis and the lepers.

St. Francis and the Lepers Artwork

  • Stations of the Cross – Fourteen bronze reliefs mounted on walnut panels fabricated by Nick Ring Studio of Jasper, IN, describe the crucifixion story, a key part of the Catholic faith.
  • Stained Glass Windows – The Chapel’s stained glass windows by Der Glass Werks of Indianapolis depict images of Saint Francis and Saint Clare.
Stained Glass in Chapel

Stained Glass in Chapel

  • Commons Art Niches – Artist Karen Glanders from Nashville, IN created five mosaic art works that reflect the institutional values of prayer, dignity of the individual, responsible stewardship, peace/justice, and reconciliation.

If you’re up for walking the inner campus, look back toward the chapel’s exterior cone shape.  Enhanced with zinc shingles and a lighted cross, the cone shape creates a unique and highly visible termination for the pedestrian corridor.

If you can’t get to the Evans Center for Health Sciences at Marian University in person, check out photos here.

College Attendance. Don’t Drop Out. Do Tune In!

40 years ago that forerunner of virtual learning, the correspondence course, was mostly the preserve of those either struggling to gain acceptance to college, unable to attend for financial reasons, or looking to gain very precise professional qualifications while working fulltime. Today, the choices and access points for remote education are growing exponentially. The social “acceptability” of those choices is less of an issue than the practical career advantages they bestow. And the extraordinary face value for money offered is more and more attractive to financially hard-pressed students.

So how can the campus built environment actively contribute to motivating prospective students to turn up, as opposed to simply turning on their computer and staying at home to study? It’s a valid question and one that farsighted strategists within higher education have been asking themselves for some time now. And while it is true that so far there has been no total abandonment of the campus for the coffee shop and the laptop, the idea of remote learning is no longer remote from the experience of America’s student population.

One research report, a collaboration between the Center for Digital Education and Converge, suggests that if current trends continue, by 2018 there will be more fulltime online post-secondary students than students who take all their classes in a physical location. So-called MOOCS, Massive Open Online Courses, are hugely attractive, in principle at least, to students hesitating at the likelihood of substantial debt incurred as a result of choosing a college education. The rising tide of technology and communications-led change that has transformed so many other workplaces beyond recognition has now lapped up against the foundations of traditionally administered higher education.

However, at Schmidt Associates, we do not view the role of architects, designers, and built environment technologists as being to assist higher education leaders in a resistance to the tide of change. Rather, our ideal function is to help lend three-dimensional appeal to the prospect of a campus based education in an increasingly “disintermediated” world. That’s the high vision. What can we do in practice?

The first important recognition is that there do not need to be dogmatic distinctions made, and irreversible positions adopted, in some notional pitched battle between “real” and “virtual” styles of education. A far more likely, and desirable outcome is the notion of “blended” education styles. In the blended approach, the campus does what it does best: providing a home and focus for human interaction, face-to-face. Meanwhile, virtual learning opens up channels to a range of resources that no physical building, or even an entire city, could ever hope to hold.

This blended approach is already gaining traction with courses of study that at one time were only considered valid, “respectable” even, when students attended every day, all day, in person, and in classrooms that would have been familiar to their predecessors 150 years ago. (In one University Dental School, applications have gone up by more than seven percent since the Faculty started loading lectures online shortly after they are given. Students value the flexibility and increased knowledge access offered by this blend of live learning and online resource.)

Those of us whose profession it is to think about how the campus built environment can best respond to these changes have to do some practical thinking. Spaces will need to change, sometimes radically, in the face of evolving demands made upon them.

The library is an excellent example. Blended learning will inevitably increase the proportion of student time spent on highly personalized study courses. Course resources will much more likely be located online than along lines of textbooks. One of our roles as designers will be to reinterpret the library space.

Where do the real books go in an eBook world? How will we physically accommodate new styles of collaborative, small group learning without disturbing the hallowed “hush” of a place of study?  What kind of technology infrastructure will we need to install to accommodate permanent, exponential growth in demand for speed and variety of information access? What will make the library of the future a worthwhile destination for students? And how will we create it without damaging or discarding the dignities of the past?

Another challenge is the lecture theatre. As the old model of one presenter on “transmit” to a large room full of students on “receive” gives way to distributed information and anytime access, what do we do with the space where people used to sit and listen? How do we adapt it so that, for example, they can arrive having already accessed the lecture on their preferred remote device and then use the physical space, and the presence of their peers, to do the real work of discussion and debate of the material?

In reality, the cycle of reinterpretation and repurposing of campus space has only just begun. The challenges will continue. And they will grow. Yet so too will the opportunities. We believe that the ideal of “university” – in the sense of a collection of human minds and personalities that encompasses the diversity needed to engage with our great issues – can only grow in value over the next forty years. As designers, our task is to create the best spaces possible for that growth.

I’m Considering Your Offer

40 years ago, most undergraduates were delighted to gain acceptance to their college of choice. The “honor gradient” ran from the institution, at the notional “top”, down to the individual undergraduate, very much at the “bottom”. Today, the situation could not be more different with fierce competition for prospective students. With roles reversed, and the other party now on the “college catwalk”, what contribution can the built environment make to ensuring your institution remains top dog?

As designers with an extensive practice in the higher education sector, we believe it is important for us to understand something of the influences and the pressures that operate on our clients at a strategic level within the university and college communities. It is easy from our perspective, and we also happen to believe it passionately, that the campus built environment truly matters as a success factor for both attracting and retaining students. But it is only right that we should keep ourselves informed about the issues that really influence today’s higher education scene. So we did a little research.

What we found out strengthens our own conviction that the built environment matters a lot on campus. But it also opened up a rather different perspective. First, in the interests of balance, we do need to acknowledge that architectural aesthetics are very far from the only issue swaying student choices. The student’s home state remains a crucial factor. One survey carried out by the National Association for College Admission Counselling showed that 72% percent of students attend college in their home state, with just 16% percent enrolling beyond either their home or a bordering state. Recent (2013) findings from the Higher Education Research Institute affirm that some 48% percent of college students identify “financial aid” as a “very important” factor when they are choosing an institution. This importance had increased from 33% percent back in 2004.

The role and influence of financial considerations is neither surprising nor a one-of finding. The respected Noel Levitz Student Satisfaction Inventory, for Fall 2011 at colleges and universities nationwide, found that financial aid was the dominant reason to enroll for some 82% of first-year students, followed closely by cost of the education on offer, at 81% percent of students surveyed. So does it really all come down just to money and home state? We believe it does not. (And even if it did, one of our arguments remains that the built environment still has a major if somewhat different role to play.)

But for now, it’s back to those selection factors. The Noel Levitz Inventory includes several that are not directly related to fees and financial support. Two of them excite our particular interest and they are: geographic setting and campus appearance. The Inventory uses the following definitions:

  • Geographic setting: Addresses campus location as a factor because of distance from home as well as the setting of the school (urban, rural, etc.).
  • Campus appearance: Considers how the campus looks to the student and may also reflect perceptions of campus maintenance.

Some 62% percent of students cite the geographic setting as a key influencing factor. That may arguably be an extension of the “home state factor” explored above. But campus appearance and its associated issues affect 63% of students when they make their choice of college. So it does matter. Of course, there is nothing counter intuitive about the proposition that an attractive or impressive campus is going to exert a positive influence. It certainly is interesting from our perspective however to see just how directly the quality of built environment is tied to student choice.

There is however a strategic debate to be had that sits apart from the aesthetics. In the face of the data, many higher education strategists might be tempted to forsake the built environment in favor of maximizing financial support and minimizing fees. This, their logic might run, would play more strongly to the predominantly home and adjacent state student crowd, positioning them competitively against local and regional rivals. The logic may well be sound, but it does not automatically demand they relegate the built estate.

In reality, campus buildings have a significant role to play, not simply in looking good on the day when a prospective student visits college, but on making the education they offer more financially affordable too. Now, that may seem counter-intuitive. How can visibly high-quality buildings and an impressive environment translate into lower fees and higher levels of student financial support? The answer lies in the ability of architects and engineers to create high-performance as well as high-impact buildings.

“Smart” renovation, maintenance, and construction projects are not just making a marginal impact on daily campus running costs. The energy and materials savings they enable are stripping billions of dollars out of institutional running costs, as well as attracting “green” investment and endowment. Costing less to keep the lights on contributes directly to keeping the doors open to those many students for whom financial considerations matter. At the same time, building a sustainable campus means growing a positive profile as well as making monetary sense.

Strategically enlightened leadership in higher education is embracing the fact that, going forward, being competitive means a college education “at the right price” – to the student, to the institution, and to the environment. The campus built environment has a major role to play in making right price education a reality.

Coming Home to College

40 years ago, college accommodation was a lot more basic. If not always actively uncomfortable, most boomer graduates have tales of stubborn damp patches, odd smells, and of gurgles and groans from antiquated infrastructure. Today’s undergraduate and graduate populations have much higher expectations, of a home away from home. What are the design and building challenges that these expectations bring?

There is no doubt that, if not the sole deciding factor, the quality of residential accommodation plays a significant role in the decision making process when it comes to choice of school. ICEF, a global leader in networking events and services in the international education sector, has suggested that student accommodation trends and their level of importance in turning student interest into an application reflect two significant aspects.

  1. Schools that offer housing may have an advantage when it comes to attracting the international students who both enrich college life and, it has to be said, do no harm to college funds.
  1. ICEF states, a variety of studies from U.S. universities indicate students who live on campus are more involved in campus life, exhibit a lower dropout rate, and, significantly, perform at a higher academic level than off-campus students.

So it may be reasonable to conclude the good old dorm has a key role to play in sustaining the academic, social and financial life of the campus. However, if some of the more exaggerated reports on campus life in the media are to be believed, that “good old dorm” has given way to a frenzy of luxury accommodations building, designed to give students a “lifestyle” as opposed to the learning opportunity of a lifetime.

At Schmidt Associates, our experience is not creating theme parks and condominiums to enable the campus to stand out in the real estate stakes. However, we have worked extensively with a number of higher education institutions to create the kind of accommodation that sets them positively and sustainably apart.

What has that experience taught us?

The true challenge of either building a new or renovating an existing residential facility is not resolved by incorporating excess. Grounded institutions realize at a strategic level that accommodation, although important, is one element in a decision process that includes many other factors, not least institutional reputation, standard of education, and success enjoyed by alumni.

Across all these criteria, the key word is “quality”. And for undergraduates and graduate students, as for most of us at any stage in life, true quality is not guaranteed by transient appeals and unnecessary luxuries. Instead, quality campus residential accommodation is about creating spaces that become real and personal places in the daily experience, and then later on in the fond memories of students. How does that translate into an architectural approach?

The first rule is that education institutions don’t look “institutional”. A true sense of home has a lot to do with scale. It’s hard to envision your “home” for the next and formative phase of your life as an anonymous cell in an oversized hive. So we design on a human scale.

Our second piece of lasting learning is residence halls that are residence halls alone do not socially work well. The very term “dormitory town” has become a derogatory term precisely because of its connotations of social isolation, lack of amenities beyond preparing to go back to work, and general joylessness. If the only reason to return to your ‘dorm’ is to sleep – or maybe finally give in and do some laundry – it’s not an appetizing prospect at any age. It is still less appealing in ones late teens and early twenties. Residence halls need more of a purpose than sleep alone. That’s why we build in spaces for socializing and shared experience that can range from comfortable lounges for relaxation through to a fully-fledged performance area.

Our third experience in recent years, and perhaps the greatest contrast of all with the needs of four decades ago, is the infrastructure demands of personal information technology. The single lounge boasting a color television set might have been at the cutting edge for the boomers now is a museum piece. One reality that campus planners cannot safely overlook is the need to make sure that connectivity is enabled throughout the building. The technology and infrastructure demanded by an “always on” society must, literally be accommodated.

This need should be balanced with a realization that most campus residents do not want their student social life to be supplied by social media alone. People like meeting and interacting with other people, and never more so than on campus. The best-designed residence halls enable and encourage them to do so. Real life, not “lifestyle”, is their objective. Achieving that objective lends the campus a uniquely human quality and helps achieve the higher social purpose of higher education.

Check out some of our residence halls projects on our Lifestyle page or Higher Education page

Graduating Green

40 years ago, our principal preoccupation with energy consumption issues was whether we had integrated enough of the right technology to keep the campus warm in winter and cool in summer. Those solely selfish considerations of personal comfort have given way to a completely different approach; one where the planet is also seen as a key stakeholder in everything we design for the college environment. So how does each individual institution stand out in the powerful “greenwash” as being measurably innovative and effective?

There can be no doubt that today, on campus and across the United States, the sustainable nature of the built environment is a major consideration for undergraduate and graduate students; not least when they come to choose a school. This is not anecdotal. Around a decade ago in fact, a “looser” interest in green matters began to firm up into a real focus. By 2008, Princeton University’s College Hopes and Worries Survey reported that 63% of its (over 10,000) respondents said information on a particular college’s commitment to the environment might impact their decision to apply to or attend that institution.

Higher education has certainly responded. Individual college and campus greening initiatives are taking place in the context of a sector-wide focus on placing sustainability at the very heart of campus life. This emphasis is as well funded, as it is well meaning.

Take the example of the Sustainable Endowments Institute (SEI), founded in 2005 as a special project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisers, Inc. The SEI has pioneered research, education, and outreach to advance resilient institutional responses to the climate crisis. It now runs the Billion Dollar Green Challenge.

This impressive initiative encourages colleges, universities, and other nonprofit institutions to invest a combined total of one billion dollars in self‐managed green revolving funds that finance energy efficiency improvements. The SEI also coordinates the College Sustainability Report Card, the first comparative and independent evaluation of campus and endowment sustainability best practices at colleges and universities in the United States and Canada.

If sustainability is very much on the college strategic development horizon, it has also put down roots deep into the fabric of daily college life. Sustainability-themed dorms, eco-initiatives and diverse policies that range from local food sourcing for cafeterias to the recycling of tons of otherwise wasted soap from bathrooms are all manifestations of real working practice, as well as a philosophy. Nor is this simply about saving resources and money – crucial as these complementary benefits are. Green design, and in particular daylight availability, has even been shown to measurably and positively impact student performance.

In this “bright green” context, what contribution can the architect make to a more sustainable campus? The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education states that: “Buildings are generally the largest user of energy and the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions on campuses. Buildings also use significant amounts of potable water. Institutions can design, build, and maintain buildings in ways that provide a safe and healthy indoor environment for inhabitants while simultaneously mitigating the building’s impact on the outdoor environment.”

That’s a pretty strong manifesto for any architect involved in higher education. At Schmidt Associates, we are very proud of the fact that sustainability considerations lie at the heart of all our designs. In fact, they are as important to us as our aesthetic approach. But we have most certainly not arrived by accident at the ability to design buildings that deliver measurable sustainability, as well as being a driver of campus pride. Sustainability is about good technology – and great technologists – as well as good intentions.

To be certain of translating their own good intentions into a demonstrably more sustainable campus, college leadership needs to ask some searching questions before engaging with any architect. These questions will include the following:

  • Does the architectural practice concerned have a track record of energy efficient design?
  • Does the practice retain its own engineers and technologists as an expert green resource?
  • Is the ethos one of genuinely integrated teamwork, so that aesthetics and technology work together from the start to achieve a “truly green” design?
  • Can they show precisely how they will arrive at the numbers they put around promised resources savings and performance improvements?

The responses to all these questions will help institution leadership decide whether they are in the kind of committed and proven hands that can create and deliver a real contribution to campus sustainability, as well as a beautiful end result. With so much riding on “graduating green” today, the choice of the right architect has never been more important.