The Campus as a Mini City – Applying City Planning Techniques to Your Campus

The design of university and college campuses has evolved greatly over the last 100 years. As students’ needs shift, so must campus design.

It’s rare that a university or college can plan their campus from a clean slate these days, but as interior and exterior spaces are revamped, and new buildings are added to campuses, much can be learned from city planning techniques.

Evaluate & Optimize Traffic Movement Based on Natural Flow

One of the most noticeable issues on campuses is traffic flow in and out of buildings and between buildings. How many times do you see a spot where students have worn a path across the grass in a ‘natural flow’ because the paved walkway is less convenient?

Observations such as these are opportunities to re-evaluate the central campus flow, and impact where entrances and exits to new or renovated buildings should be. Any project to renovate or add space, should include a re-evaluation of traffic flows to ensure entrances, exits and pedestrian “malls” are in the right places and that the right balance of major and minor walkways are included in the plans.

Maximize Efficient Use of Land & Infrastructure

Most campuses have a city or town that has grown up around them. This can lead to constrained space for expansion or renovation. This problem is common in city planning as well.

One solution is to look at higher density buildings that can comfortably handle more people in a smaller footprint. This is a common approach to city planning as cities mature, central spaces begin to go up instead of out.

With college campuses, going up and down may both be feasible. Moving parking underground or to structures on the edges of campuses can help reclaim space for better use. Additionally, many campuses are expanding with taller buildings for both classrooms and housing. This can present challenges stylistically, but also opportunities to develop beautiful structures that are highly functional for dense populations.

Another way we see campuses making great use of land is mixed space. We talked a bit in our last newsletter about how Gen Z occupies space—and how that can impact colleges and universities. Developing spaces as a mix of study, dining, and recreation not only appeals to the Gen Z student but makes great use of space throughout the day. Rather than have a dining hall that is only used 4-6 hours a day, a mixed-use space can shift to study space or lounge space between mealtimes, and into recreation space in the evenings.

Seek Balance & Harmony in Spaces for Study, Housing, Recreation & Culture

Great cities tend to have amenities within a walkable distance from home and work. Grocery stores are spaced out through different neighborhoods. Bars, restaurants and office space are often intermixed within neighborhoods or on the fringes of residential areas.

For campuses, we’re beginning to see the same philosophy pop up. Convenience stores in the lobby of each housing building akin to a neighborhood grocery. Fast dining options spread out throughout the campus, which allows for a smaller centralized dining hall. In addition, multiple recreation areas, both within buildings and outside buildings, to create community near where students live.

Plan for Today with a Vision for the Future

Not all of these ideas are executable on every campus. What’s important as you’re evaluating space and contemplating new building projects or renovations, is to think not only about how the space must be used today, but also how it could be changed or adapted for the future.

While a master plan for campus design is extremely important in planning for the future, we believe that flexible spaces that can shift in how they are used over time are equally important—and can augment a master plan for greater flexibility in the future.