University and College Design For Generation Z

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University and College Design For Generation Z

Blog by Kate Thomas, Director, Austin-Smith:Lord Ltd

As all good Architects and Designers, we always strive to understand the end users of our buildings as fully as possible to best support our clients in achieving a built environment tailored to their needs, preferences and expectations.  Teaching as a visiting lecturer at the University of South Wales also gives me a particular interest in the latest student profile.

University and college students and staff are constantly changing.  Although we cannot pigeon hole everyone in an age group, it is acknowledged there are definite identifiable trends in the typical profile of each generation; what makes them tick, what they enjoy, how they learn most effectively, what their priorities are. There is a theory that the western world can be roughly divided into generational categories defined by our date of birth. Each group has a collective personality – typical traits that are shaped by the cultural and political landscape, our upbringing, technology, zeitgeist and each other.

The facilities that each generation require to match their priorities has differed, particularly in regards teaching and learning space design but also in wider facilities catering to their social, nutritional and wellbeing needs.

It is now a mistake to think of ‘Millennials’ as the fresh generation. The truth is, as I am living proof, they are approaching 40 and no longer the new kids on the block.  Millennials now span post graduate students and university staff. Crucially, they are no longer the generation of undergraduates.

So who are the current undergraduates and how do they differ from Millennials? Meet generation Z.

Diagram source: www.economicdevelopment.org
Article: ‘Generation Z – What to expectby Laura Fuller

In general terms generation Z are even faster paced and tech savvy than millennials. Most multitask between 5 screens in their own time. Social media, twitter, Instagram have shaped their world of the immediate, and they increasingly expect information to be given to them at university courses in the same fast paced small easily digestible pieces. They often want staff visible and accessible at a moment’s notice and delivery done as efficiently as possible so they can keep a work life balance. Formality and discipline in the learning environment often turn them off. Generation Z tend to look after themselves better in both body and spirit than those who went before them. Previous generations tended to do one or the other. Generation Z are also far more driven by equality, maintaining mental health, and the health of the planet than older generations. The Extinction Rebellion movement is testament to this agenda. There has been a very significant increase in religious practice, along with a big rise of Veganism and teetotalism in the student population. The stereotype of students living on burgers and beer is fast becoming a thing of the past.

So how do we design university spaces better suited to these users, to best support their achievements and help universities with their student satisfaction ratings? Driven by finance, sustainability and lack of green and brownfield sites attention in recent years has turned from large new build flagship university schemes to refurbishing the older building stock. This is adding to the challenge for designers with added constraints of working within existing building fabric.

In teaching and learning spaces there has been a shift in pedagogy away from the didactic learning style to a less formal more free flowing delivery with more group work.  This has led to the birth of the collaborative lecture hall, providing a great answer to reducing formality in delivery to large numbers. Designed correctly these spaces can be used for a variety of teaching styles, and even used as social spaces outside of core teaching hours by individuals or study groups, helping improve room utilisation efficiency. We have recently redesigned existing lecture theatres at Cardiff Met University to change from traditional rows of seating to collaborative ‘turn and learn’ style seating, allowing students to engage in group work with people sat behind them.

Teesside University
Collaborative style lecture hall, Teesside University, Austin-Smith:Lord Ltd

There is a drive to create more transparency and visibility in education environments, moving away from Victorian ideas of avoiding distracting those teaching and learning. Passers-by are now actively encouraged to see into teaching sessions, sparking interest in other subjects and activities, engendering cross fertilisation of ideas across subjects and between students and academics, as well as providing views and daylight. There has also been a shift away from formal settings for tutorials and group work to more ‘coffee shop’ style social learning spaces. Designing the acoustics of these spaces to provide adequate privacy,  and selecting the furniture (often with power, data and display screens supported by Wi-Fi and cloudless technology) to support these activities within catering spaces is often key to the delivery of required capacity.

University of Gloucestershire Oxtalls Building
Private study café booths, University of Gloucestershire, Austin-Smith:Lord Ltd
School of Art and Design, Cardiff Metropolitan University
Social learning space, Cardiff Metropolitan University, Austin-Smith:Lord Ltd

Aesthetic expectations and style preferences have evolved in the student population. The student is coming from the “paying client” perspective since fees have increased, with a growing expectation for style & quality. In line with the preference for Informal style, natural materials and domestic feel furniture has increased in popularity. Biophilia has become an enduring trend driven by the sustainability & well-being agenda. This concept embraces the love of nature by bringing it inside through indoor greenery, natural materials, fresh air and daylight, along with patterns, textures and colours taken from nature.

Visually bringing the outside in with finishes & colour, UWE Digital Media Building, Austin-Smith:Lord Ltd

Due to a far more diverse student population, with changing social preferences, there is an increasing need to engage socially with more diverse cultural backgrounds through offers on campus. There is a continuing loss of profit from alcohol sales and night club attendance is in decline. Live music events are however increasing in popularity, along with cinema & foreign film and video or board game tournaments. There is increased timetabling pressure on group social spaces and religious spaces, along with areas for sports and fitness classes and social group cookery spaces. The challenge is often how to refurbish university nightclubs to cater to reduced capacity, using the remaining space for alternative events, then expand the space back out for live music events. This can be achieved successfully with a combination of modular and portable space division and furniture, intelligent acoustic separation solutions and a considered approach to finishes and style appropriate for mixed use. For example, the appropriate flooring can be a particular challenge for spaces used as a nightclub but also a yoga studio or cinema at different times, often solved with the latest acoustic and slip resistant LVT products. Being armed with knowledge of the latest products and technologies available at various price points is crucial for delivering truly successfully flexible spaces.

Austin-Smith:Lord’s Interior Designers and Architects are currently working with several universities and colleges to tackle these specific challenges including, amongst others, Cardiff Metropolitan University, UWE, University of Exeter, Aberystwyth University and Coleg Y Cymoedd. We look forward to their successful completion and post occupancy reviews which will inform our ongoing research in this field.

Visit our website at www.austinsmithlord.com for further information or to get in touch.