Tag Archives: people

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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The informal meeting place in a university building, the multiple functions of a doorway

Innovation and knowledge are essential for progress. You can gain knowledge by going to a university or doing research. Knowledge development requires a creative boost that might be released by a moment of serendipity. Thus universities have an interest in creating these moments. The question is: can we arrange the conditions for serendipity through design of university buildings?
Serendipity can occur through informal, unplanned encounters. These momentsontmoeting of informal communication are an important instant for knowledge and knowledge production as research on R& D organizations shows: The chance of having informal meetings enlarges the attractiveness of a university environment; these encounters can be seen as possibilities to gain new ideas and to strengthen opinions and visions. The chance of an informal meeting is one of the reasons to come to the campus, and contributes to a sense of belonging to the university as a place where you can meet interesting people.
What are the spatial conditions for these encounters? For an answer I made pictures of people gathering together on university ground. For this blog I choose one of the pictures I made in a faculty of Architecture.
On this picture we see the interior of a building, the intersection of the end of a staircase at your right-hand, a corridor the building has more than two floors. Let’s have a closer look to the people who are in it. In the foreground we see a man, presumably a cleaner with a garbage bag, emptying a bin. We see people standing and walking in the corridor. Someone is just flying down the stairs. I concentrate upon the people hanging in the doorway. One wears a checkered shirt and the other is dressed in orange. Both wear a backpack. They are male, talking, turned towards a girl. The girl seems to smile to them and looks sexy in her revealing shirt. Another young man is passing by. At the left side a girl is standing in the corridor. Does she watch the scene? Other people you see partly, maybe it is busy in the building. What we see is an encounter in a corridor, a route between destinations. We see that the people, who are talking, are hanging in a doorway at an intersection of routes.
According to this picture the existence and combination of a route, an intersection and a doorway are spatial conditions for this informal encounter. The crossing of routes increases the possibilities of encountering and at the same time people can continue on their way, anytime. Which stresses the voluntary nature of the encounter. The function of the doorway is multiple. The slightly narrowing in the corridor makes people decelerate, it marks a boundary between different spaces, both cause raised attention for the surroundings. It is a natural place to lean, because the doorpost comes forward from the wall. In a university such an occasion leads to a chat between students or scholars. And who knows, leads to a fruitful cooperation on a research project and an inspiring moment of insight. The creative boost that is required for knowledge development.

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