Class is (back) in Session: On Campus with Gow Hastings Architects

Exploring how the design of campus common spaces can transform the student experience.

Gow Hastings Architecture partners Valerie Gow (l), Philip Hastings (r), and design director Jim Burkitt (c). Photo by Braeden Martel.

Tapping into over 20 years of experience designing frequently award-winning facilities for post-secondary institutions, Rhys Phillips spoke with Gow Hastings Architecture partners Valerie Gow and Philip Hastings along with design director Jim Burkitt for a wide-ranging discussion about how institutions can attract students back to their campuses with a sense of confidence and comfort. In 2020 they wrote an article for our sister publication, Canadian Architect, outlining immediate pandemic design imperatives.  While pandemic issues raised in that op-ed are covered, the focus is now on how institutions can attract students back to their campuses with a sense of confidence and comfort. Four projects from 2018 to 2022 are discussed: Niagara College Student Commons; Fleming College A-Wing; Université de l’Ontario français Campus (UOF); York University Osgoode Professional Development Centre. [The interview has been edited for length and clarity.]

Can we start with, in your own words, a bit about Gow Hastings Architects?

Valerie Gow: Phil, Jim and I all went to the UBC School of Architecture. [As a team of designers] we go way back into our student days. We all worked for Dr. Ray Cole, who was kind of our lead [or mentor] in a way. We’ve been in practice for 21 years now and I think we’ve been really lucky to focus on college, university and other academic projects. In total, we’ve done over 450 projects for colleges and universities. [This has led us to really think] about what the student experience is on campus. We really, really believe that design helps to attract the best possible staff and students. From project to project, we design a tailored, purposeful and playful solution rather than having a house style.

 Philip Hastings: I could illustrate that a little bit further. What happens is that we work on many facets of a campus’ buildings. Niagara College is one campus building that is really a series of buildings joined [into] really one huge complex. Very often we find ourselves working on different pieces of that campus, sometimes together, sometimes over the years. In the case of Niagara, we planned it all out ahead of time in terms of what would happen over the next five years. Then we rolled out each of these projects. So, there’s our involvement over a long period of time on a multitude of projects within one institution.

It’s about rectifying the existing condition as much as possible by taking advantage of the buildings that are already there. We increase their utilization of spaces while making existing and new spaces more attractive to potential students.  Overall, we are bringing them up-to-date as college programs change.

 VG: I think because we’ve been doing academic projects for such a long time, we’ve actually hit on almost every sector. So whether it be aviation schools or nursing schools or whatever, I think we’ve pretty much done them all.

 PH: Something we were sorting out [at Niagara] was the connections and circulations between spaces. This was obviously why the student Commons is located in the middle of the campus.

Did you make any structural changes such as open up vertical spaces for skylights?

 PH: Absolutely. When you have a building that’s a bunch of buildings that have grown together over 50 years, you can sometimes get a long way from the exterior. Jim, why don’t you talk about it?

Jim Burkitt: The big thing here is that originally there were four or five separate buildings built over a few decades. As the college grew incrementally, these buildings all became connected. We see this a lot on college campuses. Quite often a majority of a campus can be seen as one big building even though in reality it is a variety of spaces connected by corridors. We find a majority of these connector spaces require students to change directions, go up or down and are sometimes deep within the footprint of the building without connection to the exterior. The result is negotiating these spaces can be quite disorienting because they lack cues to allow oneself to understand where they are in relation to the environment.

Niagara gave us an opportunity to address this issue. We also realized there were a lot of these small scale spaces. What the campus sorely lacked were larger spaces. The challenge is balance and creating a dialogue between light and dark, large and small, light and airy, social spaces versus academic space and so on.

Off the core of Niagara’s Hub, an additional multi-use area with pivot doors, are signalled by a vibrant blue canvas wall crossed by LED strip lighting. (Photography: Scott Norsworthy)

This [main central component of Niagara] was to become one of those large social spaces. What we did was not simply to provide a large space for eating but also a place where students would spend time in-between classes… although certainly the cafeteria is a central part of that experience. But in trying to extend natural light as far into the building footprint as we could, we proposed structural changes in the existing building to allow for clerestory light in the major connecting corridor. The new bands of glazing were only six feet in height and located up at the top of the new double height connecting corridor.

And although this new glazing was small in area we also introduced detailing that really allowed natural light to appear to flood into the space. We lined both sides of this double height space with mirrored panels to allow natural light to bounce off multiple surfaces to fill the space. The big structural idea was creating a big [well-lit] room.

PH: In between new space and old renovated space, there were probably three decades, with all kinds of structures mashed together. Our job was to hollow it out and open up connections that tie all these different parts of the buildings together. At the end of the day, we’ve got what is essentially a new building and something as good as any new building but better because we’ve used what was already there.

 JB: So this is the focal point. This is the new entry, the new face of the [Niagara] campus towards the northeast side. Connecting the space back to campus is this big long corridor system that we really wanted to extend upwards. We liked this type of tall space for a couple of reasons: partially because the space would separate itself from the rest of the campus and also so we could get above the existing buildings and start to capture that clerestory light.

While the cafeteria is certainly the focal point of the project, for us equally important is how the cafeteria is connected to the rest of the campus. Another of the important spaces in the project is the activity room in the center of the space, tucked back into the building within the high volume of the corridor. This space gets used for special events, so when it is open we wanted to announce that it is in use. So we proposed a series of large pivot doors to enter the space so that, when open, you know something is happening in there from all the way down the corridor. The two-storey high blue coloured felt walls accented with lines of light above the doors further announce the room and naturally draws people right into the space.

At Fleming, did you also make structural interventions there?

 PH: Yes. We are back again to a situation of multiple buildings built over 50 years then extended to make a mega complex. Our task was to deal with the [campus’] first building. It had a lot of challenges for how a contemporary college needed to function. The structural changes [were] quite significant; but, yet again, we reused the existing structure and all the foundation footings, but we stripped it back to that [basic structure]. Even the mechanical system which is relatively new was maintained but a whole new look was developed for this building.

So the structural intervention was to the appearance. At the same time, that also involved upgrading the thermal properties of the building.

The [end] stairwell was the main circulation through this building although the main bus stop ended up several decades later over on the other side. And so we created a whole entrance out of that old staircase and made it much more of an activity area and a destination point.

 JB: One of the unique things about this building is that there was not a lot of exterior windows and certainly not a lot of transparency into the building. With this new edition, without the use of conventional signage, the design provides clarity for people on how to enter. It is a new focal point for the building.

Original loading bays were replaced with a student hub connected to the outside environment. Additional natural light enters by a skylight above gaps in the first and second level ceilings.

 PH: At the center, the original loading docks has been stripped out. Now, it has become a student gathering space, a commons with connections up and down from the first story to the second and third storeys. Really important, there are now many connections out to this beautiful landscape in which sits the Peterborough Campus of Fleming College.

 JB: A lot of times on these campuses, because there has been so much incremental changes over time, that 500-yard view is not available. Both these projects highlight views far into the landscape, offering that moment of perspective. This is another way to centre oneself within the landscape all the while bringing light deep into the floorplate.

We also used this feature to bring in natural light from above. In a building that didn’t have a lot of natural light, we tried to introduce as much natural light as we could, so that new visitors could negotiate the building on the first time very easily.

 VG: This project we did prior to the pandemic, but we worked really hard to bring in natural daylight as much as possible deep into the building’s core and to introduce views out into nature. I think going forward, our clients, because of the pandemic and the need to maximize hygiene, will want these kinds of things and they will be more and more important.

In student collaborative areas there’s a floor tile that is Italian ceramic, porcelain with antimicrobial bacterial features. We didn’t use those products much prior to the pandemic and we are now.

 PH: Another big structural change in these projects and a requirement from the clients right from the beginning, was how you have transparency between circulation space and activity spaces, including classrooms. We did that in all our buildings including the old buildings. But the way those old buildings were constructed 50 years ago usually [involved] divisions between rooms and corridors, primarily for building code necessities. Using upgrades to life safety systems, we were able to expose all of these classrooms to the corridors. Today you walk down the corridor and you look into nursing labs or cooking labs or a classroom and you get the full effect of what’s going on in the [academic space]. That’s the expectation today for these institutional buildings; our task was to convert a 50-year old building to accommodate this.

You may know us from doing a lot of cooking schools in Ontario and we have really honed their [necessary] hygiene techniques over the past 15 years. This kind of hygiene, that became important during the pandemic, was always important in many areas. It was quite easy to roll that through the pandemic. And then today, it’s a very easy argument or discussion with our clients about the importance of hygiene in design. It doesn’t take much to convince them of these attributes.

VG: For instance, in the culinary schools we consider what kind of grout to use because an epoxy will have less bacteria festering in it. There is seamless floors just to make sure that you’re controlling as much as possible any kind of infection. But we were also already using these techniques in other spaces. We started with the cooking schools, but have brought [these technologies] into other projects. We now look at anti-bacterial materials and that kind of thing for furniture coverings. This is just smart design in terms of specification; and, I think that clients are very much interested in these kinds of things now because of the pandemic.

PH: After going through this period of the pandemic, we were very concerned about hygiene. Designers during the early period of modernism had a great concern for healthy design, and it’s central again today.

 VG: Even though you’re specifying these kinds of materials, it can still be about design that is cheerful, playful and colourful. Healthy technology doesn’t have to have a negative impact on design. I think there are clients with whom we work that are very interested in these types of specifications because they are also typically easier to clean and maintain.

How can the design of campus and commons spaces transform the student experience, and encourage students to stay and spend time on campus?

 PH: There are two things we’ve noticed that have already changed on campuses over the last few years. One is the importance of outdoor space. [Such spaces] have now become very valuable and clients see the value in it. They see them as learning space, teaching space and as socializing space. We are looking with our institution clients at how to improve and develop those areas such as internal courtyards or turning roads into pedestrian pathways. That has become really important. I think that this trend has really been fueled and pushed on by going through this pandemic. So we are currently looking at that with a number of colleges at the moment.

The other thing that’s really changed is not quite about the student space question, but staff and about their offices and their staff space.  I want to mention office space and how it relates to the changing campus environment because there are many fewer administrators and faculty on campus now than there were prior to the pandemic. It’s rare for people to be working five days a week on campus. Now there are many more students than faculty. As a result, we’ve been working to design [for the staff and administrators] very flexible, agile, adjustable workspaces for faculty who drop in two days a week and need a space to work.

At the [UOF] we designed some of the best office spaces ever but as “touchdown spaces”. This is far removed from when everyone got a little office and little window, a door. It’s all about giving some of the best space to this activity but making it flexible and agile.

Above transparent classrooms and labs in the Université de l’Ontario français Campus is a graphic branding mural visible from the street. Corridor flexible workstations means added work or socializing seating looking out onto the city. (Photography: Tom Arban Photography)

We’re doing one right now at Conestoga College. Once arrived, staff have two monitors into which they plug in their laptop. They’ve got acoustical separation from other people along with a little room for small meetings, take a Zoom call or meet a student. It’s a different way of working. That’s an area that has changed more than any other space on campus.

This also increases the amount of space for students, for both informal and teaching spaces. Is that what has happened?

 PH: [UOF] was designed during the pandemic, all online. [Prior to the pandemic] they already wanted more space for students. But, I think the pandemic helped to re-enforce the importance of allocating as much space as possible to informal student activity. The middle of this project’s large floor plate is all allocated to student activity. Different types of tables, different types of computer and video setups, different kinds of adjustable seating, as well as quiet spaces are introduced. You can use all kind of arrangements of furniture for all kinds of different types of gatherings – classes can be taught, seminars can take place, students can meet with their colleagues, individuals can sit and study on their own or you can do something social

Providing this variety of different types of uses and having the technology and the furniture and the lighting to allow them to do so is key. That was the heart of this project. We started this campus from nothing, [just a] huge leased-building floor plate and we essentially built a campus inside. It’s all interior and it’s kind of a microcosm of a campus all condensed into one indoor space.

 JB: Maybe I can jump in. The [UOF] plan was developed right when our article came out regarding new demands from the pandemic. At the time there certainly was a lot of fear. We showed increased distances between everything really. Certainly comfort levels have increased but there is one design aspect that has persevered. There are many locations on these campuses where there is one entry into a space and one entry out. An example is washrooms. [Just to] the west of Agora 2, there is a new example of how we approached that issue. This is a washroom block.  Instead of gang washrooms, individual washrooms were proposed with a common corridor that allowed for an entrance south of the washroom block and a separate exit to the West of the block. Individuals can walk in from one place and then just casually walk out in another direction. More and more clients are asking us about unisex washrooms or single washroom stalls. They are perceived as more hygienic as well as they are organized in the plan differently.

If things get difficult again, there are solutions. So we speak a lot about abstract ideas for moving people around these big floor plates efficiently. We try to have fun with this. We can use super graphics, changes in ceiling heights and we can use colour. Most importantly, we try to avoid use of conventional signage to subtly let people know where things are. It can be a simple as showcasing natural light at precise moments.

The big mural of colour [facing out to the exterior on the second floor at [U des O] is located right beside the Gardiner Expressway. In this case, just having a big block of colour visible as one zooms by on the Gardiner expressway lets people know something goes on here. It is another example of branding in an abstract way. In every plan we try to use this abstract branding in many large and small ways.

PH: There are things that happen in the pandemic that were necessary at the time that have also helped to highlight some issues. And, one of these is movement around a space.

 VG: We started taking a look at widths of corridors and spacing, and providing a little bit more generosity around circulation. [We placed] mechanisms in place to bring people through the space. There is patterning on the floor or a unity of treatment of the glass. The UOF project was our first project awarded after the pandemic hit. So [circulation] was very top of mind.

[Another issue,] a lot of people were saying, “Oh, we should have a sink beside every classroom,” but what’s going to happen after the pandemic? Post pandemic, how are we going to work with these things that have been designed and constructed? At UOF a lot of the learning happens outside of the classroom in collaborative spaces or “third spaces.” [These are] neither home nor classroom, but something in between. The client came to us right in the beginning of the project [saying] that they want as much third space as possible. In terms of taking a look at these kinds of spaces as well as libraries and study carols, six feet was determined as the optimal distance. So, that is what we did.

Work stations were split out on three foot modules. During the pandemic, you just simply pull one of the chairs away and you have that spacing. But when things went back to normal, then you could double your capacity again. You structure in order that [space] could be flexible and then adapted to a maximum capacity afterwards.

The same principle operated for the office work spaces. We took a look at three-foot deep desks so you are naturally 6-foot away from somebody rather than having somebody sitting right across from you. We really thought long and hard about that as well as how to incorporate the latest technology to allow virtual meetings and Zoom calls, which were just beginning at that point of time.

Jim did you want to talk about wayfinding and how having people go around the space with light matters?

JB: With this particular project, lighting has a significant impact on wayfinding. With respect to [U des O], the space was unique in that its entire footprint was a giant square, having the area of approximately 60,000 square feet. Despite having a floor to ceiling height of 20 to 25 feet the floorplate was very deep without many opportunities for natural light. We used artificial light to connect spaces and draw users through the space.

In their main presentation space called ‘the Agora’ occupies a massive portion of the plan at the exterior of the floorplate [while] other spaces might be 100 feet away from natural light. We always try to use corridors and other non-academic spaces for more than just getting people from A to B. As Phil was describing, there are a lot of transition spaces that open and close in scale, but always we use artificial light to direct individuals around and connect space to space.

While every project has a finite budget, there are really straightforward solutions for using linear LED’s and many LED providers are starting to think about how to connect their product to provide seamless lines of light. We developed specific solutions where we brought together multiple linear lights to create what we call ‘light ladders’ to connect spaces around the floor plan.

We used these lights as a datum within the space which allowed us to use conventional materials and finishes below the lights and leave all space exposed above the lights. This allowed us to showcase the character of the neighbourhood in the design by exposing the precast concrete structure as well as save the client some development cost of the fit out.

VG: This is just about creating great student spaces, a variety of areas for students to lounge, to study or to meet. [The objective] is to really encourage them to spend more time at school rather than going elsewhere. We provide a place that feels like home to them because a lot of the students are commuter students who need a place to land and spend the day. And then there are other students who may be living in a small student residence who don’t have those kinds of social spaces. Providing a comfortable environment for them at school [enables them to] collaborate with their classmates.

PH: At colleges, they really want to up the ante when it comes to things like food offerings, for example. It’s not the cafeteria serving French fries and soggy hamburgers. It’s really much more [about providing] extensive offering. These are as good as anything you’ll get going outside for lunch.

VG: And we created some spaces that really take advantage of circulation space where you can turn that [once singular function] space also into student collaborative and social spaces. [Many of these] areas have comfier lounge chairs, have views out, have touchdown tables or have [furniture] for more individual study. We take a look for every opportunity to provide that Informal learning.

 JB: In the past, the same clients might have asked us to design the academic spaces only with less expectation on the connection between these spaces. At that time, the solution would have involved a narrow, double loaded corridor.

Rarely now do we start to think about things in this way. Now, we try to integrate more activity into those ‘corridors’ and use changes in scale and changes in lighting quality in order to create smaller identifiable zones all the way through the campus.

Ultimately these spaces have become a significant piece of any design and in the life of the student. [They] are as valuable as the academic spaces themselves. Our clients understand that their student bodies are typically on their campuses anywhere from 8am straight through until 10pm at night on most days. Consequently, these students spend large blocks of time in spaces outside of classrooms and therefore the design of these spaces have a large impact on students.

 PH: [At UOF] is an example of an outdoor space in connection to an inside space. The outside terrace [connects] to an indoor meeting room. You can take a meeting outside onto that terrace or you can sit out there and relax between classes.

There is a flexibility like in high-tech firms as well as trying to create a place that’s more comfortable than their micro condo/apartment.

PH: Yes, it is a competitive environment running a college or university and you want to attract the best students. Part of attracting the best is your facilities. Clients know that and they come to us for the highest level of design to attract these students.

Part of how we kind of dive deep into figuring out what resonates with students is by consulting with them. A unique way [was by using a rolling stand] to poll students on campus. We called this a “rolling polling Bingo card.” We had a couple of these fabricated and they are on wheels [so] they move around the campus. It’s just a simple process of encircling some things on a bingo card you think are really important to your space as a student. [This includes] things like, “I want to plug in my laptop and take a nap and keep warm by a fireplace.” It’s just touching base in every way we can with the real customers and finding out what makes them tick and what they want. And it’s not asking for the world. They just need some pretty simple things….like some power and some comfort, a place to work [including] group work that is now very common, places to get together with their peers to do their homework.

Another part of this is the issue of graphics. Quite often all the information that we gather from these groups gets brought back to the groups. If it gets brought back in a research document, nobody really understands if they’ve been heard. So we spend a lot of time with graphics and how that empirical data gets presented to all these groups. Equally important as listening to the groups, is letting them understand that you heard them in a way that they can understand. So we’ve had a lot of success with that as well.

 VG: It was interesting [at Niagara] because our client was the Student Union. So we had to find a way of giving everyone a voice and this was the best way of gathering as much data as possible. The Student Union thought that would be best located just outside their student pubs. We gathered a lot of information.

 JB: I can touch on wayfinding a little bit for the Niagara College student commons project. This project became a whole new face for the Welland campus. Philip mentioned [the College comprised] about five or six different building options. We ultimately worked with the client to arrive on a place for a new entry for their campus.

This is a building unique on the campus as it was one that would be used by everybody on campus, not just by certain faculties or staff. So we separated this building from everything else around it by the use of these playful graphics. In the building itself they become very, very large, multiple color blue dots within the chevron pattern that sort of talks about moving people in a certain direction. But it’s really trying to have fun. The chevrons are crashing into one another at the North East corner of the addition. Beyond graphics these dots are transparent and filter blue shades of light into the space. These circles are repeated in different forms throughout the project sometimes assembling to provide direction, sometimes appearing to define the shape of light and sometimes as the shape used in both the interior and exterior screens. Finally, they tie into colour branding of Niagara College.

At Niagara’s student hub, old claustrophobic corridors have been exploded to create different social/study work spaces opening to the outside. Colour plays a key role, wood and perforated screens add texture. (Photography: Scott Norsworthy)

VG: In terms of students’ socializing spaces we have provided at Niagara, there are niches that are surrounded by coloured green glass and a dining space for the cafeteria as well as collaborative opportunities. There is bar-height strip seats that give you a look outside.

But what we didn’t anticipate where the [bespoke niche] seating elements along the window. We designed them for six people but students love it so much that we’ve often seen up to 15 people sitting in them; they’re really, really popular.

It’s also about taking conventional materials like felt and really thin LED lights and using them in a creative way to generate a feature. So, the LEDs are inset lights within the cells’ walls.

Are you pleased with the way the designs responded to the pandemic; were you ahead of the game?

PH: You always have to be ahead of the game. That’s what we want to do is stay current. Those ideas developed through the pandemic were brewing already; so, the [pandemic] just helped to reinforce them. At the end of the day, it’s really about good design. I think the pandemic has helped reinforce some aspects of design for us. One example would be the need to put arrows on the floors everywhere to indicate how people should walk around buildings, as Jim was articulating. I think we can do that with the design and give clues as well as to how to find things you’re looking for in the building without too much difficulty.

JB: I think of the first six months of the pandemic – there was a lot of fear. Fear of the unknown. We were all staying in our houses isolated, even people that were outgoing were silent.

When thinking about how one approaches a particular building, I always try to think the approach by that visitor who arrives for the first time, or how that building is perceived by people that pass by. Like those first few months of the pandemic, I think we need to be sensitive to these times. We work with a lot of public institutions and we work to try to eliminate any fear. I think about how important transparency is. In all our projects we work to announce where you’re going before you get there through the architecture of the building in ways other than signage.

I think of arriving at the Niagara campus in that dark time of the early days of covid that we all went through. And then I think of every time I had to go to a new place unfamiliar such as a campus with all of those low corridors that changed direction abruptly, they asked a lot of a person who hadn’t been through them before. Anytime we can announce place using architecture and let the public know that there are no barriers to enter, it’s free to enter and by the way, they are welcome – is so important to us. I think in all of our projects, we work hard at reducing stress. The pandemic really just put a lot of pressure on the importance of making one feel welcome in a space. If we are able to allow the public, a way to negotiate or to feel less uncomfortable in a space; that is what makes us happy most.

Are there two, three or four design elements that might even have been unconsciousness before the pandemic that have really stepped up with COVID-19?

PH: No, I don’t know if anything just suddenly came out. All these things that we identified have been around for some time such as outside spaces for hygiene.

JB: I think it’s been all around hygiene. I don’t think we will ever give up that sort of playfulness with colour, but I think use of larger format products that are easily cleanable and reduce joints such as hygienic wall panels make a lot of sense. These panels can be 4’ x 8’ in size and come with a very refined connection between panels to minimize places where bacteria can grow. Furthermore other products such as porcelain products are offering increasing sized tiles to reduce the number of harder to clean joints and when special protection is required switching to epoxy based. It’s easier to clean, it’s impervious and it’s durable. Finally, rolled floor products with welded seems and mechanically connected to floor drains offer great solutions for hygiene.

At GHA we work primarily in the institutional environment. These projects get built once, often have a demanding user group and impacted by an increasingly reduced operating budget so the spaces really have to be designed to be durable over time. Buildings are asked to function exactly the same over their lifetime whether the space is two years old or 20. Unfortunately we do not estimate that there will be any changes with these requirements moving forward.

PH: But I don’t think there was anything brand-new. We knew beforehand that you should have good ventilation and from inside buildings you need to connect to the outside, including access. These are all principles of design that existed for hundreds of years. I think if anything, the pandemic imperatives just helped us a little bit to reinforce the importance of design that makes people healthy, feel well in spaces, want to come into buildings to work and study. It is really important to push on with these principles.

I was quite intrigued with the KPMG study, which found; first, students were overwhelmingly supportive of how their institutions responded to the pandemic. They did feel a significant loss of community, which very important for them. But they’re also very much open to incorporating more advanced technology. Has the demand for embedded technology increased from the pandemic?

PH: Yes, it’s definitely got more sophisticated and the pandemic has pushed the technology along. Just the fact that we can have this [Zoom] interview demonstrates the options. But, much of the technology has existed for some time [although it] wasn’t really very well developed. So that has been advanced [by the pandemic].

The primary challenge we think students face along with their colleges and universities is [facilitating] social actions and technology helps with that. We are not the experts in the equipment, but we are the experts in making sure the equipment is integrated well into the architecture and the design.

Screens are purposefully placed in the space.  We let someone else deal with the technology, but we want to incorporate it in a seamless way. Where students and staff have to interact with the technology, we try to make that as intuitive as we can, to design for the simplest kind of interaction.  Technology is going to come and it’s going to go, but it’s pretty darn important in teaching spaces at the moment.

In a classroom at [York/Osgoode] it looks like you could fly an airplane with all the equipment in here. This is what the instructor is using at the front of the class to teach a hybrid class. So it’s in person [at the same time] as it is virtual. It’s recorded and it’s a podcast. This is the flexibility they want.  As much as possible, we make sure that works so we must understand, at least somewhat, how that equipment works to ensure it fits well into the design.

Carpet tiles creatively activate the open space and provide passive wayfinding. Red hexagonal tiles are concentrated towards the floor to ceiling windows, creating a pathway that leads users through the gathering space towards sweeping city views. (Photography: Remi Carrieio)

JB: In the future, we are not sure how many people will be occupying the seats. But these particular clients anticipate that an equal number of students will also be remote. The layout and technology showcased [at York/Osgoode] is allowing that to happen. Technical solutions are increasingly seamless and as a result the remote industry has taken off. There is no doubt that the pandemic has fuelled this evolution so that classrooms are easily setup for in-person and/or remote learning equally. One additional factor we see in classroom design is that it is preferred that classrooms feature an increasing amount of natural light and quantities are controlled with increased technology such as remote blinds and paying close attention to orientation.

VG: At York Osgood Professional Development Centre we also designed a recording studio for podcasts and interviews as well including a green screen.

PH: There is a change we’ve seen in the last 21 years at colleges as well as at universities. They don’t draw from a small, geographical area any longer, they draw students from the entire world and so accommodating and acknowledging, and teaching about those cultures to everyone on campus has become very important. These are international communities of students now and a lot of them are a long way from home. So there is great importance given to ensuring a feeling of home.