What’s Old Is New Again For Today’s Students

  • Mar 31, 2016

College admissions offices are selecting the Class of 2020 and students are eager to find out where they’ll get to spend their college career. Many factors go into making a school a top choice — including the quality of the school’s facilities. After all, these are the places where they’ll discover new ideas, meet new friends and participate in extracurricular activities for the next four or more years.

Today’s college students, the Millennials, and those coming after them, Generation Z, want beautiful spaces, laid back and flexible spaces with advanced technology platforms that are conducive to their learning, in and outside the classroom. One of the ways to create these spaces economically is by recreating older spaces — in other words adapting existing campus buildings for new uses.

Renovating and reconfiguring buildings can have broad appeal for this new crop of students who have a love for the past. In a 2015 article from the Huffington Post titled Millennials, Nostalgia and Urban Preservation: Why We Clamor for a Past We Never Had, author Elena Weissman explains this generation’s need for nostalgia. She says, “Millennials have assumed other generations’ good old days as their own.”

You see this trend towards nostalgia all over. According to the Recording Industry Association of America half of all buyers of vinyl records are under 25.  Hobbies that were popular in years gone by, like gardening, are also on the rise and board games, mason jars and Polaroid-like filters on Instagram are back.

A love of the past could be good news for universities. With most university campuses dating back a century or more, there exists an untapped opportunity in the existing building stock of campuses. With the need to add or upgrade facilities, adapting existing buildings on campus for a new use can appeal to this generation and the next.

Here are just three reasons why:

  • Older buildings capture authenticity: Having come of age after the Great Recession, this new generation of college students have a keen sense of authenticity. Hotels are just one of the industries recognizing this. The Curio Hotel by Hilton is an example of a brand that prizes authenticity and independence by locating hotels in local neighborhoods and linking them to local culture and art. In a similar way older campus buildings are a link to the local and alumni community and have been so for many years. They often define the character of a campus, represent an institution’s beliefs, which serve as the underpinnings of an institution’s culture and community identity. For example, while Harvard University occupies large portions of Cambridge and Boston, it’s hard not to think first of Harvard Yard with its historic red brick buildings around the campus green. Maintaining this sense of history and shared experience can unite the students to a college community while they are on campus and throughout their lives as alumni.
  • They can be adapted for today’s technology: In today’s universities, learning happens everywhere and technology is part of the reason why. Students expect to be connected whether they learn in on-campus coffee shops, in residential study halls, in online lectures or community gathering spaces. Millennials and Generation Z grew up in a digital world and expect to take full advantage of technology in every aspect of life, especially college. Older buildings can be easily adapted to include the technology and the collaborative spaces conducive to the way this generation learns — whether it’s interactive smart boards, high definition video capability and bolstered wireless Internet.
  • They embody sustainability: Sustainability is part of this generation’s DNA. Having grown up recycling, listening to news of global warming and completing required community service in high school, today’s students are keenly aware of the importance of caring for the environment. Not only are they aware but they are more likely to also question institutions on their records to protect the environment. Existing buildings on campus already embody significant energy from the processes and materials used to build and operate them. Demolition of existing buildings produces waste while new construction requires that we expend new energy and resources. Upgrading, adapting and reusing existing buildings will produce the least environmental impact and also improve the health and well-being of the students who use them. Sustainability is also good for a college’s bottom line. Sustainable buildings cost less money to operate. According to the U.S. Green Building Council, sustainable technology can save a university 20 to 50 percent off their energy bill to heat, cool and light thousands of square feet. And building age is not a barrier to sustainability. For example, in 2015 Beck helped Southern Methodist University in Dallas achieve LEED Gold Certification for the historic Dallas Hall, the oldest building on campus at 100-years old.

Colleges and universities are increasingly taking on the role of building preservation stewards. These creative building solutions can contribute to creating dynamic 21st Century learning environments and preserve the historic value of the campus, the shared institutional beliefs, and the memories of alumni — values that can contribute to a school’s culture and distinctiveness.