Posted on March 3, 2015

Way back when I was looking for colleges, I wanted to find something that seemed old and august. I was looking for buildings with Latin inscriptions (which I couldn’t read) and that seemed hewn from the earth thousands of years ago, and where professors roamed talking about classics. In short, I wanted the Platonic ideal of a college. Even back then, though, I knew I needed one that was also modern and up-to-date on the latest (now laughably outdated) technology.

There are obviously still students today who want that old experience, but they are also smart enough to know that their college needs to help them meet the challenges of our fluctuating and uncertain times. There has been more technological change in the last 20 years than in most of human history, and as it improves exponentially, it will continue to change the world in unpredictable ways. New college dorms, residence halls, and other higher-learning MDUs need to understand this, which is why new dorms are embracing both entrepreneurial centers and flexible grid architecture. To get the bids, MDU developers have to understand what this means.

Utes!

The Lassonde residence halls at the University of Utah are designed to be flexible to meet tomorrow’s challenges. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Flexible Grids and Adaptability

Yesterday, we talked about requirements for any new college residence hall, including being well-connected, environmentally-friendly, and suited for being a multi-purpose center. The latter is especially important, and it has led to an embrace of flexible grid architecture.

This is best highlighted in a new dorm- not yet built- at the University of Utah. The Lassonde Studios, as it will be called, are designed to help students create at all hours. It isn’t a regular residence hall. I enjoyed mine because in the basement it had an air hockey table, which usually worked. Lassonde is going to be a little different.

The building will feature roughly 400 beds for student residents and a 20,000-square-foot “garage” on the first floor. The garage will be open to all students on campus and include prototyping tools, co-working space, conference rooms, event space and other resources for entrepreneurship and innovation.

There’s more to it. According to the designers, this space is built to constantly be in flux. The flexible grid allows “the garage” to expand and contract depending on the student body, or to rearrange itself according to the needs of the students. If more people are leaning toward practical engineering and there needs to be more space for prototypes, it can shift itself that way. If there needs to be more space for events, like conferences and seminars, it can mold itself in that direction. Planners envision that the building can be completely different every 5 years, and slightly different any time you go in it.

The Entrepreneurial Spirit

The key word in the above quote is “entrepreneurship”. This dorm, along with a similar one in the University of Wisconsin (Madison), are designed so that students can share ideas, have a place to work, and essentially live in a lab. If they have an idea at two in the morning, they have a place to go- just downstairs to the garage. This is all to promote their ability to work in the new economy.

It isn’t a coincidence. The architectural ideas espoused in these projects are reminiscent of headquarters for leading tech companies like Google and Facebook. They are surrounded by the chances to innovate and are not generally tied to old concepts of learning. The dorms are supposed to be more than a place to go to a friend’s room to play video games- they are supposed to be a place where ideas can formulate, and to do so, they need to be flexible.

Powerful Electrical Needs Require Expertise

Getting a bid for a dorm is a huge project, and in order to do so you need to keep up on the trends involved in higher education. Colleges and universities are preparing their students for a changing future, and so they want their students to be light and intellectually nimble, able to change what they are doing on a dime. This helps them understand the way the workforce is going to be. They want them to have a chance to explore and to create and to be entrepreneurial.

Your designs have to be flexible, and you have to make sure that you are working with contractors and experts who are familiar with the electrical needs of student housing. A flexible entrepreneur center needs a lot of electricity and has to be wired with caution and exactitude. You can’t have the power be weak or the connection faint. The whole point is for the students to be able to walk into a foreseeable future, not be stuck in a dark past.