Editor's Note (The View From Here)

Does It Matter?

Do the facilities in which higher education takes place really matter? Do colleges and universities need shiny new state-of-the-art, visually appealing buildings in order to achieve their mission? If you answered “yes,” what does that say about institutions that hold classes in leased space in an office park, or a sparsely converted storefront, or those who operate without buildings at all, but instead instructors teach online to students scattered at a distance in their homes, learning in their living rooms or kitchens?

I spent my first two years of higher ed in a small community college in the northeast. At the time I attended, the building was relatively new. Three years old, to be exact. Before that, the college “cheerfully camped out in a colorful succession of utilitarian premises” in the downtown of its community home. The story of the new campus—one sizable, rambling building built in three terraced levels into a hillside—was that it was originally designed to be built in California, and there was, allegedly, an identical campus somewhere in California. California and Massachusetts have different weather patterns. Vast expanses of glass on the building made it a chilly place to be in the winter, and completely enclosed outdoor courtyards on the upper terraces saw accumulations of snow that couldn’t be easily removed but instead were simply piled up to the side with walking paths shoveled through the middle.

In addition, there was a considerable amount of clay in the soil beneath the campus. This meant that the building was very, very slowly sliding down (or at least resettling on) the hillside upon which it was built, which led to repeated misalignments of the one elevator in the facility.

With all that said, I felt that I received an excellent education during my two years at this school. I was aware of the less-than-ideal aspects of the building—especially in the winter—but none of them prevented me from doing what I was there to do; further my education.

In this issue of College Planning & Management, we are featuring the winners of our annual Education Design Showcase. The outstanding projects featured in the showcase range from an 825,600-square-foot campus master plan to a 10,000-square-foot renovated learning space. Ultimately, all these featured projects will achieve their intended goal: educating the students who come to learn within them. Congratulations to the winners!