Workplace Research: Higher Education
Re-imagining Libraries, Faculty Offices and In-Between Spaces
Knoll convened a Higher Education Summit in Chicago in October 2019 with thought leaders in higher education design from across the country. Headlined by researcher and author Meghan Grace, who presented discoveries from her book, Generation Z Goes to College, the forum also included a lively exchange of ideas and challenges designers face when planning spaces on campus for today and tomorrow’s students and faculty.
“Every visitor got a sense of belonging, and a choice in how they wanted to collaborate and engage,” a designer related about a recent project. Planners provided a mix of spaces with varied furnishings including soft seating, high tables and work tables, as well as an on-site Starbucks coffee bar, she added.
While books aren’t going away, square footage is being reallocated and reclaimed for new ways of learning. One university saved space by moving librarians from private offices to open plan and relocating book stacks to a vault. Requests can be placed remotely and a robotic book retrieval and delivery system locates items for later pickup on a hold shelf.
Leisure materials remain in circulation for students to access themselves, and an algorithm suggests other reading the user may enjoy based on the publication requested. With the addition of the vault and new software, the university has actually experienced an uptick in book borrowing, designers reported.
Space savings yielded a mix of open work and heads down areas; quiet spaces, including 40 much-needed enclosed study rooms with monitors (the space formerly had five); social areas; a virtual reality room; and a maker space with 3D printers.
Following student feedback, designers continue to iterate furnishings, rethinking the elimination of half the furniture and privacy dividers on study carrels.
In some departments with highly specialized disciplines, professors are not necessarily working together toward a common goal or project, lessening the need for a collaborative environment. “I don’t see them needing to sit in an open plan to collaborate because their activity-based work is very individual and very separate,” shared one designer who works in highly specialized engineering spaces.
“I also think they need a respite from the environment they’re in— whether it’s a lab or classroom—and the amount of physical traffic coming at them. I think four walls for some of the faculty who do really intense work are important,” she emphasized.
In other disciplines and in settings where staff support multiple departments, collaborative spaces are effective, though levels of acceptance might vary by tenure. “We usually get more pushback from the older generation,” remarked one designer. “The younger ones are used to touchdown spaces.”
“Open plan has been more successful in sharing information, collaboration and being able to streamline your process,” a designer related, though extensive change management is often needed to ensure a smooth transition.