November/December 05
Issue 12


this issue...

The Learning Campus and
the Campus Plan

The Teaching Campus:
The Unstated Messages

Polite Buildings
Architecture Without Dichotomy




This issue explores the powerful impact of campuses as places permeated with instructive messages, some explicit, others inferred. The observations and arguments advanced suggest that as planners and campus stewards, we can enhance and enrich these messages for all campus participants if we are thoughtful, intentional and contextual. Arthur's piece focuses on campus planning opportunities, while Charles takes a more architectural approach. Our third viewpoint is provided by Michael Flusche, Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at Syracuse University. Mike has a career-long interest in making campuses more effective and meaningful for students, and all campus users. His suggestions provide a knowledgeable perspective on the topic.

George Mathey


If you have reactions or ideas to share, please let us know what you think by e-mailing:

The Learning Campus and
Campus Planning


Terry O'Banion, in his book, A Learning College for the 21st Century, said “The learning college places learning first and provides educational experiences for learners anyway, anyplace, anytime.” Although the term “learning college” has its basis in the community college environment, the concept (or at least the term) has spread to 4-year and graduate institutions as well.

The learning campus shifts the “teachable moment” to the learning moment — “anyway, anyplace, any time.” The shift is from faculty giving and student taking to student doing.

Another shift in the learning campus is the understanding that all members of the institution are learners: students, faculty, staff, and administrators — a true community of learners.

What are the spatial implications of “anyway, anyplace, anytime” and what are the implications for campus planning?

The “learning campus” requires a fundamental change in the way that the college or university community interact, not just in the classroom, but also everywhere on campus and in every endeavor.

For one thing, a “learning campus” means that the classroom and lab are not and should not be the only places where learning takes place. Offices, lounges, dorm rooms, corridors, outdoor spaces, and the myriad formal and informal gathering spaces are all important to the learning experience.

For another, it means supporting the reality that people learn at different rates, with different tools, in different settings, with the need for introspection, and the need for interaction — learning is private and independent and learning is social and dependent. A campus needs spaces, inside and out, that recognize and encourage the diversity of learning styles and approaches

And for yet another, it means that there should be programs and places for faculty, staff, and administrators to work independently and in groups — to learn, to experiment, to assess what works, and to grow. An example of such programs is the Reflective Practice initiative at the University of New Hampshire, which encourages faculty to step back and assess what works, to work collaboratively, and to change the way faculty interact with their students.

In reflecting the “learning campus” the campus plan would include additional outdoor seating areas placed along well-traveled pedestrian routes; café options perhaps in the library or the prime athletic/recreation building; large faculty offices that would be an alternate venue for learning; small group collaboration spaces; studies and lounges of various sizes in the library and in other campus buildings, and space that would encourage interdisciplinary learning through centers and institutes or through facilitating interaction among academic departments.

The campus planning process itself should be a learning experience for the whole campus. What does planning actually mean? How do you build consensus? How do you set priorities? How do you create a vision for the future? How do you create an environment where all voices are heard and valued? What information is important? What are our values? The opportunities for learning are enormous — and the more you invite and involve faculty, staff, students, and administrators in the process, the greater the learning.

And it should be a learning experience for the consultant as well. We learn by listening, by understanding, and by learning the values and culture of an institution. The worst consultant is the one who comes to campus with the answers, with the solution, with the template, with the plan.

Arthur Lidsky


The Teaching Campus:
The Unstated Messages

Colleges and universities communicate with the public in many ways: most obviously in the classroom, but also, for example, through the person of the chancellor or president, printed brochures, alumni magazines, news releases, and through high school college fairs. Those public relations and marketing avenues are usually carefully attended to.

Sometimes, however, the most important communication medium is not so carefully addressed: the campus itself. The physical environment of the campus is one of the most powerful communication channels available to an institution. Students, staff and faculty members spend many hours every week reading between the lines of the campus they inhabit. The campus's message also reaches alumni and the public at large and most especially potential students and their parents. (It is well established that the campus visit is one of the most important elements in determining students' choice of colleges.)

A careful study of what subliminal messages a campus actually sends can suggest ways a college or university can clarify or reinforce its messages to its many audiences, most especially to its students. It can be difficult for people who work at a college every day to see it with fresh eyes, to read the messages that the campus is sending, what lessons it is teaching. Therefore special efforts are often needed to see the campus afresh.

Here are some sample starter questions that can trigger an investigation of what messages the campus is sending or what lessons it is teaching:

Is the physical environment welcoming?
Are the needs of visitors well attended to: is visitor parking clearly marked? Are signage and wayfinding aids convenient, visible, and helpful? Are pathways clean, safe, and well lit? Are members of minority populations made welcome through statues, pictures, and other symbols of inclusion? Do “blue lights” and other security devices and policies reflect serious attention to student safety?

Who does the institution celebrate?
Besides the common donors plaques, are exemplary works by students and faculty celebrated and easily seen on campus? Are student art works, demonstration projects, or research papers readily available in the student center, library, or in building entranceways? Is faculty work easily found-their publications, inventions, or personal hobbies? Are notable alumni visibly held up as role models for future generations through Walls of Honor or other ongoing modes of recognition?

What values are proclaimed?
Is the college motto or inscription of the seal integrated in decorative schemes? Are there monuments, statues, or portraits celebrating civic virtue or notable contributions by members of the college community? Are student codes of conduct or expected behaviors posted in residence halls or other locations? If it is a religious institution, are appropriate symbols and images clearly evident? Are there sites on campus that celebrate the institution's history and heritage?

Is student learning the most prominent value of the institution?
Are the classrooms, laboratories, studios, and library the best maintained, equipped, and comfortable spaces on campus? Do campus policies such as quiet hours and the provision of study spaces encourage serious academic work? Do academic departments welcome students and facilitate faculty-student contact? Do offices post pictures of members of the faculty, staff, and administration so that students will recognize them by sight?

What behaviors are encouraged?
Do entrances to academic buildings convey what transpires inside and entice passersby to come inside? Do the locations and arrangements of casual seating encourage both quiet personal retreats and social interactions among students? Are attractive trash receptacles conveniently placed to discourage littering?

How “green” is the campus?
Does the campus teach environmental sustainability by its policies and its promotion of ecologically sound practices in building design and fixtures? Is landscaping sensitive to the local climate and soil condition? Are there posted reminders of good practice such as turning out the lights in unoccupied rooms?

These questions, and others more specific to an institution may suggest opportunities to make the physical environment more supportive of the educational mission of the college or university.


At California State University at San Marcos, the statue of Caesar Chavez at the head of the main entrance stairs to the campus provides a powerful statement of welcome to the Hispanic students in southern California.

At Syracuse University, The Place of Remembrance reminds all of the tragic loss of 35 Syracuse University students in the terrorist bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie Scotland in 1988. It is the site of annual commemoration ceremonies.


Polite Buildings —
Architecture without dichotomy

In ancient Rome, the two-faced god Janus was responsible for watching over portals, guarding those entering and those departing. The posting of an image of Janus extended an implicit courtesy to all who passed.

Such a level of civility is one that all campus buildings might well foster. Consider that students, faculty, and visitors on a daily basis will not begin their journeys across campus from the same origin, nor arrive directly at the front.

Canonical examples are 19th century campuses. In adherence to the norms of the time, institutions established their front doors to address (literally) a public street, or sometimes campus open space. A front was created, a backside implied.

An undesirable dichotomy arises when, as a campus grows, land is acquired, and newer buildings surround historic structures. Almost every campus has a building where the majority of its users will come in the back way, entering through narrow and dingy stairwells or even service entrances.

The challenge for continued, effective, and uplifting use of an older building is how to turn it to face and greet its users. Opportunities may involve an addition of space, either contingent upon programs needing more space or on bringing an older building into conformance with current codes.

Good examples abound. More than one architectural critique published at the time the Princeton University campus center opened (a renovation and reuse of a former academic building) touted the architects’ sensible impulse to make the building approachable and welcoming on all of its sides. Sensible, as this particular building type has the focused intent of welcoming its users and creating campus community.

For those who reshape their campuses today for an uncertain tomorrow, the strategic design response is to be ready for all comers and growth and change in every direction.

Charles Craig


Some campuses are singly graced and challenged by topography, as is Muskingum College. The arrow indicates the College's recently completed Communications Arts building, Caldwell Hall.
[Photograph, courtesy of Bialosky + Partners Architects]


Caldwell Hall's multiple entrances politely address not only approaches from different directions, but also resolve access from different elevations. Counterclockwise from the top, the arrows indicate entrances from the upper campus and primary academic area, the upper parking, and the lower lot.
[Site plan, courtesy of Bialosky + Partners Architects with MSI Landscape Architects]



SCUP's Integrated
Planning Institute

Arthur Lidsky will be a faculty member presenting on campus planning for SCUP's Integrated Planning Institute from January 20-23, 2006 in Tempe, AZ. The session will be: Step II: Focused Knowledge for Integrated Planning Process.

For more information, visit


Learning Spaces and Technology Workshop
Arthur Lidsky will be a facilitator at the upcoming 2006 Learning Spaces and Technology Workshop to be held February 17-19, 2006 in Memphis, Tennessee. The workshop is designed to help colleges and universities plan for effective technology-enhanced learning spaces. The Learning Spaces Workshop will serve both those institutions that are planning to construct new facilities and those that are intending to renovate existing buildings seeking in both instances to enable faculty members and students to use technology more effectively and creatively in the service of learning.

The Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) and the National Institute for Technology and Liberal Education (NITLE) are organizing the workshop in collaboration with Project Kaleidoscope. Financial support is provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

For more information, visit


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