COVID-19 has put many colleges at a crossroads. Crucial questions about survival and sustainability loom large. Is there a way forward that reimagines the campus as a lean but robust home of the institution and its community, blending the soul of physical place and the muscle of digital interface into a vibrant hub?
The blended campus is a community resource. It breaks traditional barriers between town and gown. It invites a diverse community of students, faculty, staff and neighboring government/business leaders and residents to exchanges and creations in education, culture, and commerce. Blend the confluences on campus with surrounding communities in new ways to activate learning, earning, and social values. The Hub at Davidson College is an incubator of entrepreneurs to engage students in project-based learning. The campus forum at the American University of Central Asia is a regional conference center. Student run mini farms are environmental study labs for the students and food outlets for the community.
The blended campus is resourceful with real estate, on and off campus. Start with this question: Is there a need for every current campus space? As remote access frees up physical space, now is the time to evaluate existing underutilized, underwhelming and unneeded spaces. A parallel step is to revisit allocations of academic department spaces to uncover new efficiency and interdisciplinary possibilities. We found that the more places are unassigned, open, flexible and interconnected, the more they are shared, inviting, collaborative and activated. As such less space can host more uses for both planned and spontaneous activities. Co-working spaces rather than individual offices save space and promote interactions. Less space consumes less energy but can feel more energetic, like a busy farmer’s market or sidewalk café. A similar philosophy applies to off campus commercial and retail spaces that can be designed to act and feel like an extension of the campus, whether for continuing education, research centers, event outlets or cafes.
The blended campus comes in many grades. Macro models include the nomadic campus of Minerva College, the diaspora campus of Unity College, and the earth as campus concept at new Black Mountains College. The trend is to a more compact, adaptable, eco-friendly, equitable, and shared community physical setting, that leverages functional value and instills social values from available places, people and programs. Smaller blends can have big impacts. Campus grounds can be public parks for leisure, wifi access, concerts, and art installations (like Pratt Institute).
The blended campus is an interdisciplinary place of learning and doing. It warrants a silo-breaking, design-thinking process that integrates interdisciplinary talents in architecture, education, design, engineering, real estate, technology, and health to form new, holistic, sustainable plans to win hearts and minds of a broad community and to fit budgets.
The blended campus transforms what is distinct and available now into what is needed next.