Resilience is the ability to recover from or adjust easily to change or misfortune. If there were ever a time where resilience is needed, it is now.
Higher education institutions had already been facing challenges: decreasing state budgets, increasing cost of attendance, the looming enrollment crisis. Add in the last year’s events, COVID-19, racial and gender inequality, climate change, economic downturn, political unrest, and resilience become a much-needed characteristic in our institutions.
Resilience in facilities can help the university overall by allowing easy transition from in-person to hybrid learning by allowing teaching and research lab space to adapt to changing lab needs quickly, and having study and office environments provide areas of respite with minimal cost of change.
So, what is resilience in a facility? It is the ability to adjust with minimal disruption easily. As architects, engineers, planners, and interior designers, we like to think our designs are long-term solutions for our clients and won’t need to be changed significantly for years to come. We think of buildings as 75, 100, or 150-year lifespans. The reality is that in the building lifespan, social, demographic, and economic changes and changes in pedagogy, technology, and utilization will require a facility to be reimagined many times. To allow this, a facility needs to be designed to meet the specific needs of now without limiting future reconfiguration to meet the future’s unforeseen needs.
Classroom, lab, and office environments have a continual change in pedagogy, research focus, and assignability/use. In the pandemic, classrooms changed from all in-person full capacity model to a reduced capacity/hybrid model almost overnight. The key to this transformation is resilience in IT infrastructure. It required having available cabling pathways and capacity in technology rooms to add cameras and microphones to facilitate audio and video and have room designs that allowed virtual and in-person participation manageable by an increasingly stressed faculty. Key strategies, design in infrastructure capacity, favor flexible furniture over fixed, plan surrounding space to allow expansion with minimal rework.
Office and study space design is essential for the students, faculty, and staff’s mental health. These areas provide support for the functions of teaching and learning and support for the people’s mental health in the environment. They need to be flexible to allow work/study, socialization, peer to peer connections, and host special events essential to the learning process.
When designing for the needs of now, we also need to analyze the full build-out potential of a site and a facility. What is the maximum utilization of the facility and the site, and how can the current design solution set up future solutions and development? How do we design building systems to allow expansion and adaptation but not significantly impact the first cost budgets? By thinking about the full build-out potential, we can make simple decisions early in the design process with minimal initial costs and avoid significant cost impacts down the road. At Purdue University’s Jischke Hall of Biomedical Engineering, initial planning indicated a building size that seemed to meet the most aggressive program growth models. Full build-out planning on the initial design allowed the building to expand with minimal disruption when 30-year growth goals were met within ten years.
Facility resilience can positively impact operational and facility change costs which will help the overall university budget. Applying some simple planning principles and considerations can help facilities be centers for learning for the next 100 years.
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