Architecture and the University Brand

  • Jan 13, 2017

By Ray Kahl, Director of Higher Education, Design

There is no doubt whatever about the influence of architecture and structure upon human character and action. We make our buildings and afterwards they make us. They regulate the course of our lives.”
Winston Churchill, addressing the English Architectural Association, 1924

It’s true that buildings can have an impact on our lives – a home can draw us to a certain neighborhood and community or an office tower can have an impact on a job decision. Colleges and universities know this to be true too. The way a campus looks can be the deciding factor on whether a student makes the school his or her educational home for the next several years.

Universities have used architecture as a marketing tool for centuries. From the elegant quads of Oxford to the colorful collapsing forms at MITs Stata Center, architecture has been used to attract students and faculty. Now, with the tail end of the Millennial generation in college and the oldest members of Generation Z, born after 1995, just heading off to college, universities are looking for ways to not only attract these groups, but retain them through their college careers.

In this climate the campus environment creates the initial and the lasting impression for those considering a school. Schools can ensure that their campus architecture and design appeals to their current and potential student body by making sure that what the university stands for as a brand is visible in the architecture.

Does your school stand for history? Can students see that in the architecture? Older buildings are a great way to attract students because everything old is new again. You have only to look at the popularity of vinyl records to see a tangible example of this trend. Schools with a historical looking campus are in a unique position to play to this yearning. Campuses like Harvard, with its long track record of excellence along with the buildings to match, are a great example.

On the other hand your campus may be contemporary. Modern campuses also appeal to today’s students when paired with innovative messaging on innovation and technology. Campuses like the University of Texas at Dallas are perfect examples of this. With a desire to be a nationally prominent research university the school recently added a contemporary Bioengineering and Science Building. Designed using lots of glass, open spaces and contemporary interiors it’s clear that innovation is happening here. And the research space for 70 faculty members echoes that message even further.

A college’s brand can have an impact long after the student leaves. It’s true that if a student’s on-campus experience isn’t memorable, if it doesn’t transcend into the student’s post-graduate professional world, then the probability of that student staying in contact with the university and giving back to ensure that future students enjoy the same benefits considerably diminishes.

A significant advantage of a lasting brand is loyal alumni who contribute to the school’s future years after graduation. At the end of the day, a “good” university brand doesn’t just influence a student; it becomes a part of that student’s personal identity. Graduates of universities with strong brands identify themselves as alumni for the rest of their lives. They promote not only their degrees, but the experiences that came with those degrees. And this pipeline of goodwill is what will keep universities in business for generations and generations of future students.

For more information about how your school can get ahead of the design curve, please contact Ray Kahl at