Thoughts on campus planning

In studying campus planning I often think about the choices that have been made without overseeing all the consequences. Decision makers in a campus planning process encounter options they are not always aware off, at the start. Of course they have to make choices all the time, but it is nearly impossible to oversee all the consequences for the people who will live, study and work on campus.

Last November I was asked to contribute to a seminar on the High-Tech Campus Eindhoven (HTCE) as a breeding place, how to better utilize its potential. I asked myself what would make an R&D campus a breeding place?

Most times a breeding place is associated with artist studios. Municipalities like to have hotbeds of creativity in vacant buildings, squatters’ strongholds or fringes of the city. Most people would not immediately think of high-tech environment, with clean rooms that cost a fortune. But apparently the organisation of the seminar thought that something is missing at the HTCE. Could that be the breeding place factor? And what are the characteristics of a hotbed of talent and innovation?

You can describe a breeding place as a melting pot: an environment where a lot of people come together and interact.  Social interaction is an important generator of ideas. And social interaction through face-to-face communication is still many times more efficient than computer mediated communication. Therefore the presence of people on campus is essential and thus people should like to come to campus. Which is not always obvious in a notorious homeworking organisation like for example a university. And it might be also a challenge for other type of organisations in the war on talent.

Social interaction is important for people as social beings but even more for generating new ideas. Getting new ideas will be more promising between people who do not see each other on a daily basis or who not belong to one’s inner circle. How can we accomplish this? Everybody knows the function of the coffee machine and accompanying conversation. But there are more possibilities. Of course the culture of the organisation is important. Facilitating leisure activities enables social interaction too. But what can be the contribution of campus design by its spatial layout and programming?

In the concept of HTCE the owner opted for a separate facilities building for this reason. They call this building The Strip, the heart of the campus. People are so to speak forced to leave their building to go for lunch, relax, conferencing etc.  And by doing so they might very well meet other people. The question is does it work like this?

‘The beating heart of the campus is The Strip. By centralising the shared social facilities in one building with its distinctive elongated and transparent form, the Campus provides an ideal location for Open Innovation. Sharing ideas, experiences and knowledge was never easier.’ (HTCE acquisition folder, p. 2, retrieved 140106 from: http://www.hightechcampus.com/downloads-363/)

The performance of a central facility for social interaction is one of the topics I study in the case study on the Hogeschool van Amsterdam. Here I found that large parts of the staff rather take lunch from home and eat it at their desk. Suppose this too is the case in HTCE, the strip will miss its goal. Although it might be possible that the packed lunch from home is a typical Dutch habit and a central lunch facility will work out with many foreigners on campus.

But imagine how do people go from their workplace to The Strip? Along the 15km footpath ‘(..) to experience peace and quiet in heavy work schedules’ according to the acquisition folder? (p.2) How cosy and attractive are these footpaths anyway? What about the plinths of the buildings? Is there something going on? And who goes out for a walk if it happens to rain? In short the question is if the campus is ‘walkable’ enough? A requirement of space we nowadays propose to cities.

This dilemma between a central meeting point at distance or a facility in every building brings us to thoughts on more dilemmas the campus manager or developer stands for. I like to elaborate on them in order to get more insight on the topic of a campus as a place to be: to be continued.

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Filed under Campus Planning and Design, Higher Education

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