During the years my partners and I have been practicing architecture and teaching, we have found that patterns of human behavior influence the way we think about designing spaces for young people. Post-adolescent undergraduates in college have a need to identify and discover their place in the context of a community. It's important for them to be able to check out what each other is wearing and what each other thinks, to be politically correct about their opinions, and to have some shared connection with others.
Certain basic human behavior patterns have remained constant throughout history: the need for food and for sleep; the desire for fun, ritual, and ceremony; the instincts to nest, to be part of a community, and to communicate; and the penchant to see and not be seen, or to see and be seen. In response to these needs, it's imperative that architects create spaces for shared public experience where students can feel part of that experience without sacrificing their own sense of self, without giving up their sense of privacy--their sense of ownership of individual personal space.
We think it's possible to comment on some guidelines of the planning and design of buildings that reflect human behavior. Some of these elements are immutable over the life of a building, while others are quite flexible.
Define your mission. Before determining what you want to accomplish, ensure that the mission of the institution is clearly articulated, thought about, argued, fought over, and discussed in an inclusive way with all the relevant constituencies. This process should absolutely include student representation. Students can make major contributions to the design of spaces, especially when they are given the responsibility of representing their constituency.
It isn't a process of going out and taking a poll. It isn't asking students what they want at a giant meeting, when other dynamics can affect their behavior. It's about assembling a bright, thoughtful, and energetic group that will take on responsibility in a marvelous way. Students have been an essential part of almost every building committee that we have worked on during the many years we have done educational work.
Envision the whole as greater than its parts. This is a simple, but often overlooked, idea. A parallel can be made to the different ways of thinking about a city. You can view a city as a piece of architecture in itself, or it can be seen as a place composed of many different, individual buildings. You can think of a campus in the same ways. But you also must remember that on a campus, individual buildings play hierarchical roles. If you care about continuity, history, and a relationship between the past and the future, then the conclusion that the whole is greater than the parts becomes a crucial aspect of whatever you are going to do--whether you are renovating a historic campus or designing new buildings on an existing campus.
The individual buildings should pay homage to the idea of the whole. After all, a campus is an artifice; it's a place where we idealize the life of a student going away from home for scholarship and for growing up. It is the community that will shepherd and guide these young people through this phase in their lives. So it should contain some unchangeable, enduring ideas.
Understand the significance of paths and open spaces. A dominant void where students meet for passive recreation, ceremony, and pageantry is essentially an outdoor living room. These spaces allow for the planting of nature's architecture--trees.
There is always an opportunity to plant, even inexpensively, as a means of planning for the long-range future. Think about permanent outdoor spaces, then think about planting in those spaces to make them wonderful.
Fixed pedestrian and vehicular paths direct the placement of buildings and keep pedestrian travel time to a minimum. Buildings are secondary; they will fall in line and do what they have to do. Even if a building is ugly and a mistake, it will be acceptable because it's in the right place and helps form a wall that defines space; eventually, the trees will hide it.
Define the edges of the campus. In an urban environment, consider the edges between the campus and the city. We've found that being inclusive of surrounding constituencies helps keep the edges of the campus healthy. It also helps with long-range planning issues involving real estate values, escalating costs, community speculation, and all of the problems that arise when a school considers expansion. Defining the edges also helps with short and long-range goals for rural, suburban, and less dense urban environments.
give and take
Talking with students about their needs and aspirations is one of the most interesting and exciting parts of designing campuses and campus buildings. Young people are looking for guidance, for help. They want to be educated. They don't want to be pandered to. Most have not come to college in search of the obvious or the familiar mall environment in which they have grown up. Maybe some of them do, and maybe that is acceptable. But in allowing that flexibility, don't move away from your mission--to create a special place that will symbolically stay with these kids for the rest of their lives.
Herbert S. Newman, FAIA, is the founder and principal of Herbert S. Newman & Partners, based in New Haven, Conn. This article was adapted from ad hoc remarks by Newman at his firm's annual symposium, Architecture in Residence: Visions of the American Campus, held in Williamsburg, Va., in April 2002.