Video did not kill the radio star, NetFlix has not killed the movie theater, and online colleges like the University of Phoenix, Kaplan University, and DeVry University most certainly have not killed the on-campus education experience. Even during the darkest days of the current economic recession, school and university construction continued, albeit at a slower pace, thus representing one of the few “bright” spots of opportunity—relatively—for architects and interior designers.
For example, according to American School & University magazine’s 2010 school construction outlook, Stanford University in California suspended or cancelled $1.3 billion in planned projects in 2009 but still had 87 construction projects worth a total of $1.5 billion in design or construction underway at the end of the year. And, according to the report, “At the K-12 level, 2009 saw fewer of the huge bond referendums that have appeared on ballots in recent years. But some districts were able to overcome the economic gloom and persuade voters to support ambitious projects.” Namely, in 2009 Detroit voters approved a $500-million bond referendum to renovate or build 18 public schools, and in Fairfax County, Va., voters approved a $232.5-million plan to build a middle school and upgrade several other campuses.
Ailing physical plants and demographic shifts continue to drive a lot of school renovation and new construction projects, but so too do broader social trends like the rapid evolution of technology, sustainable building practices, the increasing sophistication of student populations (particularly at the higher education level), and the demand among lower income communities for the same quality of educational experiences accessible to higher income populations. In this issue we see prime examples that span the rich gamut of project types: a successful charter school in a highly marginalized neighborhood of Oakland, Calif., a student center that creates a new focal point for an already well-established college campus in San Diego, and a new student housing facility in downtown Phoenix, intended to draw students to an urban campus.
This issue and our accompanying online education focus at www.contractdesign.com also dwell a bit on the renaissance of the public library, which no longer necessarily is a place for quiet research and reflection, but instead has happily and logically taken on multiple roles as teen center, after-school caregiver, coffee house, technology center, museum, and archive, etc. Thanks to technology, the reach of education no longer is confined to school buildings. In fact, it is not confined to any physical place at all.
Nevertheless, what physical space offers and what all of the project types in this issue have in common is this: they all use design as a means to build community as a fundamental aspect of good education for all ages and socioeconomic levels. And that is why the University of Phoenix will never supplant the Phoenix campus of Arizona State University.