New report: 'Optimising University Estates'

29 November 2023      Martin Higgs, AUDE Communications and Campaigns Manager

Newly published report gives holistic and detailed view of the development challenges to come

AUDE is very pleased today to be able to share with members the results of a piece of work commissioned from the Education Design Unit, in the format of a new report ‘Optimising University Estates’. The Education Design Unit (EDU) is a collaboration between specialist practices Make Architects, Elliott Wood, Max Fordham, Gustafson Porter + Bowman and ZZA Responsive User Environments.

EDU aimed to look at the requirements expected of the current and future campus in a holistic way in their thinking about ‘optimising the university estate’, bringing together a wide variety of insights; an awareness of multiple audiences each with differing expectations; and a consciousness of huge existing challenges around ongoing HE funding, the rapidity of technological change, the need to progress rapidly with net zero carbon planning, and more.

AUDE members fed into the development period of this report as long ago as the AUDE 2021 Conference.

Jane Harrison-White, AUDE Executive Director explained that the result of EDU’s work is “a hugely interesting read, full of ideas from multiple standpoints of the kinds of campus we should be developing and redeveloping right now. Climate resilience. Biodiversity and pollution. Water stress and flooding. The measurement and assessment of carbon emissions associated with construction and operation of sites. Decarbonisation of the electricity grid – I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface here. The report is a really thorough document and close attention will pay off for your team in the form, I suspect, of dozens of new ideas and approaches to follow-up on, including better ways to manage your own stakeholders’ understanding of the complex issues we face. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading this work and I’m sure you will too”.

As Ziona Strelitz, one of the report’s authors, observes from her research on student experience, in speaking on behalf of EDU: “Every higher education institution is a constellation of multiple parts. With hot competition to be selected by students choosing where they want to study, to stick with their choices, then to be satisfied with their university experience, and feel loyal to the institution when they leave, students are the prime audience on most higher education Estates teams’ radar now. There is strong evidence that quality of university space is important in students’ higher education experience, and their feelings towards the institution. Campus quality matters.“

The report proposes an approach to considering design quality in our estates, based around the themes of Utility, Identity, Comfort and Character, each of which ideas is explored and elaborated upon. Under each theme questions emerge naturally to help the reader think about those spaces. Is the space fit for purpose now, and in the future so far as that is identifiable? Does the campus have a rich provision of spaces for people to meet and socialize in? Have students been consulted on the range of types of space they need and like? Have the circulation routes and deeper spaces of the building been designed to capture daylight and external aspect? Are workplaces located away from movement routes to avoid distractions? The nature of these prompts on these four themes aim to get the reader really thinking, not least in the questions they ask when commissioning.

‘Optimising University Estates’ is hosted on a digital platform and published by Make Architects. It is one of a growing suite of space management-related reports published with the help of partners over the last several years which are all available on the AUDE website.

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