Designing Campus Learning Spaces for Effective Education

At HMC Architects, we focus on designing campus learning spaces that have a meaningful impact on students’ lives. In our years of experience designing spaces for community colleges, universities, and vocational schools, we’ve found that today’s students need more than just traditional classrooms to succeed. They need a connected, community-centered campus that encourages them to learn inside and outside the classroom. Here are a few core principles that we incorporate into every campus we design.

How We Design Campus Learning Spaces with Impact

Designing exceptional campus learning spaces means thinking outside of the box. We look for ways to get students to become active participants in the campus community and engage with their lessons long after classes end. This holistic, campus-wide approach to design has a greater impact on students than traditional designs and can even improve student retention, test scores, grades, and graduation rates. To help students succeed, we focus on these five campus design principles:

  1. Make learning spaces flexible and modular
  2. Encourage collaboration among students
  3. Find tech-friendly solutions
  4. Improve student comfort and focus
  5. Connect classrooms to public spaces

1. Make Learning Spaces Flexible and Modular

A flexible or modular learning space not only supports different learning styles, but it also enables colleges and universities to offer students more courses in a wider range of subjects. Classrooms can be used for more than one type of lesson, including lectures, roundtable discussions, hands-on projects, and multimedia presentations.

The problem with traditional lecture halls or laboratories is that many remain empty for part of the day because they are designed for just one purpose. We make learning spaces more flexible by:

Installing desks and chairs on casters so that students can move them around the room or rotate to face one another.

Designing multipurpose working spaces that include whiteboards, work surfaces, and other tools students can use to work on projects individually or as a group outside of class hours.

Designing modular classrooms that can be constructed quickly over the summer for courses that require specialized tools or workstations. This may include wet and dry laboratories and other scientific or engineering-centered classrooms.

2. Encourage Collaboration Among Students

Students learn best when they can collaborate. Designing campus learning spaces to foster collaboration encourages students to take more creative risks as a group and lean on their peers for support or advice.

To support teamwork and socialization, we use design techniques like:

Foldable partitions in classrooms to separate individual study zones from collaboration zones.

Whiteboard walls or writable floor-to-ceiling windows so students can share their ideas with peers.

Shared common rooms in recreation centers, residence halls, and other buildings on campus where students can cluster, collaborate, and study together.

Comfortable furniture and dining options near collaborative zones to attract students to these spaces.

3. Find Tech-Friendly Solutions

Today’s college and university students typically rely on laptops, tablets, and other technology for note-taking, homework, presentations, and other types of learning. Campus learning spaces should make it easy to use technology effectively. Mobile charging stations and desks or chairs with charging outlets are a great way to support this.

Architects can also incorporate more learning technology into these classrooms and study spaces. For instance, we might design a floor-to-ceiling interactive touchscreen that students or faculty can use to present information or to write notes on directly.

Another way to make the most of technology is to design spaces around virtual teaching. Designing campus learning spaces that incorporate video conferencing tools allows students to learn from professors and experts around the world.

4. Improve Student Comfort and Focus

According to a University of Washington report, the physical environment of a learning space has a significant impact on student learning outcomes. Heating, lighting, noise, air quality, and interior design all have an effect on student comfort and focus. 

To ensure college and university students are as comfortable as possible, we design campus learning spaces that include:

More natural daylight and less artificial light, which has been proven to have positive effects on student happiness, health, and productivity. 

Natural ventilation (like windows that close and open automatically) to keep temperatures inside at a comfortable level and improve air quality. These also allow students to control the levels of light and air in a space.

Soundproof panels and soft furnishings in high traffic areas to keep noise levels low in classrooms and study areas.

Comfortable furnishings, outdoor learning spaces, and views of nature in classrooms to keep students comfortable and lift their spirits. Views of green space have been shown to improve school performance.

Color schemes that promote relaxation or focus. Muted earth tones and shades of green, blue, or brown are good options for quiet learning spaces because they help students feel more relaxed. Bright, bold colors can be used in creative or collaborative learning spaces to encourage students to feel excited and energized. 

5. Connect Classrooms to Public Spaces

The spaces between classrooms provide some of the most valuable learning opportunities on campus. Too often, architects focus all of their time and effort on designing campus learning spaces without considering what connects them. A hallway, common area, or even a stairwell is a great place to inspire students to learn outside of class.

We like to include “sticky spaces” throughout campus—that is, places where students want to stop as they walk from classroom to classroom. We’ll design small recreation and study rooms near cafes or food kiosks. We’ll also create glass walls in hallways so students can see some of these collaborative spaces as they navigate the building.

A college campus shouldn’t be a group of disjointed buildings or classrooms. It should feel like one cohesive design where every inch of space provides an opportunity to learn something new.

We’ll Help You Design Dynamic Campus Learning Spaces

We pride ourselves on designing campus learning spaces that are centered around the needs of students and their unique communities. While we always incorporate these five principles into the design process, we also understand that every college and university campus is different. This is what sets HMC Architects apart from some other firms. We work closely with administrators, faculty, students, and the community at large to ensure that every aspect of a building or campus’ design is perfectly tailored to the users’ needs. We believe that student learning is a community effort, which is why we embed ourselves in the community from the beginning of the design process. Our goal is to understand your values and campus culture so we can help your students thrive. 

If you’re ready to design campus learning spaces that will have a lasting impact on your students, contact HMC Architects today. Or, if you’d like to see examples of our past college and university campus designs, you can also email Higher Education Practice Leader Ken Salyer directly.