Campuses of the future: bringing life and lectures together

Written by Susanna Ollila & Tiina Toivola, Kuudes

With students now able to attend classes and perform many other academic tasks online, university campuses have become less about traditional lecture-based teaching and more about learning the softer skills needed in an ever-changing world. The campuses thus need to adapt to meet the changing needs, demands, and uses in a time when virtually all information is readily available online.


The book Dreams and Seeds — The role of university campuses for sustainable urban development is the final output of the research and practice project Live Baltic Campus (2015–2017), funded by the program EU Interreg Central Baltic 2014–2020. Using university campuses as its focus, the book highlights the complexity of how urban sustainability can be understood and aimed for. Large differences between prerequisites and goals are to be found even in the socially and ecologically relatively homogenous context of the Central Baltic area. The book is a product of an international collaboration with 46 contributors from the project, and specially invited experts from different fields in urban planning, architecture, design and research, with special focus on sustainability. The chapter by the experts at KUUDES, which can be read in this post, is one of the thought-provoking contributions to the book. I hope you, too, find it informative and inspiring, and that it helps frame your thinking around what how university campuses can contribute to urban sustainability.
Access the full book here
Maria Schewenius,
Lead editor,
Dreams and Seeds,
Stockholm Resilience Centre

Many university campuses are still designed around a traditional model of higher education in which students visit academic premises primarily to attend lectures. Nowadays, however, campuses are primarily places of interaction where students exchange ideas and form social relationships. Campuses also play an important role in helping students to learn and practise the skills and abilities that are increasingly valued in today’s world, namely: emotional intelligence, empathy, and problem-solving.

This article summarizes four of our key insights as design professionals about the changing role of campuses. The insights are based on interviews with university students in Finland, and on our own experience of working with campus design.

Campus spaces should be so inviting that students don’t want to leave

Before WiFi became virtually ubiquitous, the most popular cafés were the ones that offered it for free. People would stay longer if they could surf the internet for as long as they wanted. A similar principle applies to campuses today. Walk around inside the buildings and common areas of any academic institution, and you will see that students gather in spots that offer printing, comfortable seating, power sockets or affordable coffee. These have become basic needs, and a must for attracting students to the campus.

“Students gather in spots that offer comfortable seating, power sockets and affordable coffee.”

Campuses should embrace this behaviour by creating different types of environments for different needs: storing items, socializing, charging laptops, and finding peaceful, quiet places for studying.

The Cave Room concept has gone from idea to execution in the new Aalto University Harald Herlin Learning Centre. It’s a place to focus and immerse yourself in whatever you set your mind to. Kuudes designed the space by co-creating new service concepts with students, faculty members and other staff.

Campuses should get people talking, listening and bonding

For most students, the relationships formed during their studies are what they value and remember the most. Finding like-minded people on campus not only makes everyday life more fun, it can even be the foundation for lifelong friendships and business relationships.

Campuses should be designed to bolster the formation of these relationships and the communities that can grow out of them, with spaces and activities that encourage people to interact, share ideas and build trust. Campuses have an important role to play in fostering the sense of belonging and pride that any successful community feels.

In addition to creating meeting hubs, events, and locations that encourage new encounters, university campuses should also support well-functioning teamwork.
“The relationships formed during studies are very valuable after graduation.”

Campuses should inspire you to experiment with multi-disciplinary solutions

Higher education is not just about obtaining an academic degree. For many students, it’s also a way to explore their passions, which progressive academic environments should be equipped to support.

We tend to stretch our abilities and work harder when we are inspired and motivated. Success often comes when we are given the freedom and support to do what we do best. Campuses should facilitate this by creating an environment where students have the support to experiment, and with the goal of helping them to find purpose and fulfilment in their professional lives.

As an increasing variety of professions demand multidisciplinary skills, campuses should be designed to blur the line between faculties, thus inspiring and encouraging students to explore cross-disciplinary solutions to academic and societal challenges.

The concept for the new Think Corner at the University of Helsinki was created by Kuudes, in close collaboration with the university and its stakeholders. The Think Corner aims to get students, researchers and partners from different fields to co-operate more and learn collaboratively. It opened its doors in September 2017.
“Cross-disciplinary experimentation during studies helps students to find their professional identity.”

Campuses should help students to get a taste of the working life

Our research has shown that very often students focus solely on what’s going on within their own faculty. This inwardly-focused thinking can easily prevent students from being open to ideas from other disciplines, or sharing their own ideas with others. Campuses can help to tackle this by instilling a sense of pride in students and faculty members. When people are proud of something, they are more likely to communicate about it. Communication, in turn, can create name recognition for the academic institution, attract funding and draw in the best lecturers in a self-reinforcing virtuous cycle.

Open communication is also important in creating a bridge between the academic life and society as a whole. Students learn best by doing, and real-life projects outside the classroom, in collaboration with companies and other institutions, are thus of vital importance.

Hackathons and challenge-based competitions, organized together with companies, are one of the new channels helping students to get connected to the business world.
“Real-life projects build relationships with companies and other institutions.”

What do we take away from this?

University campuses and their facilities will continue to play an important role in bringing students together, encouraging them to think critically, and helping them to build links to the outside world; even as learning is likely to increasingly take place mainly through digital channels.

The shift in the way we work, and the change in the skills we need has been so quick that many campuses have not yet been able to adjust. A campus should be a place where knowledge, lifelong learners and businesses meet in an environment in which students naturally want to immerse themselves. A campus should embody the vision of the institution it is home to, by visually and spatially expressing the institution’s values and culture through every aspect of the physical environment.

As the next generation of university campuses has begun to emerge, the time is right to explore the vast range of design options these new environments demand and inspire.

At brand design agency Kuudes Helsinki we have explored this topic through hundreds of interviews with university students and staff.

We’ve also used our insights to create several higher-education concepts, spaces and services in Finland, including the Aalto University Harald Herlin Learning Center, the “Think Corner” at the University of Helsinki, and the new Aalto University School of Business’ graduate campus concept.

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