BSA Lifestructures

Student Life Spaces Designed for Flexibility and Connection

Josh Vel, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP BD+C-Director of Learning, DenverApril 3, 2019

I recently presented at the national ACUI Conference in Indianapolis with a team of experts on how to build flexibility into student union buildings. As we dug in to the messaging of our presentation, I was reminded that student success depends on many things, but one of the most important is intentional connection.

Students today, and in the future, need community, interaction, and engagement as the cornerstone of a successful university education. As students change, and as that rate of change accelerates, it will be imperative that facilities have the flexibility to change in days or hours, not weeks, months, or years.

How can universities make physical changes quickly to make social connections more regularly? The key is to maintain and cultivate a long term mindset within your organization so you are prepared for inevitable changes. The framework for such hangs on understanding and implementing the following three ideas:

Evaluation: continual analysis and metrics to see what is working and what isn’t. If it isn’t working, flexibility can help you change your space for improvements.

Spatial qualities: open and inviting, encourages lingering, access to daylight, fosters interaction

Design strategies: create spaces for shared use, convertible use with flexible infrastructure and technology

As my career has moved to a more national platform, I’ve found fostering student interaction directly leads to student success. Soft space used for student engagement is sometimes hard to grapple with from a financial point of view, but the pay-off in student recruitment and retention will be realized in very short order. It’s been wonderful to see how a few small moves in terms of space and design have encouraged future generations of students to connect and engage, and it’s been wonderful to work with clients who are committed to that purpose.

Contact Josh Vel at for more information on this topic or our national learning market leader, Geoff Lisle, at to hear more about our learning market.