New Spaces


Design trends are emerging in higher education.   

By Denny Crain

A new class of college freshman will soon be moving into their dorm rooms and transitioning into a new chapter in their lives. A generation raised on smartphones, the class of 2021 is in synch with the latest trends in design, technology and dining and are more connected with the happenings around the world. The way in which students experience the world around them, especially on a college campus, are pushing the boundaries of design.

Students are looking for visual and functional experiences in the university environment that are similar to the sophisticated and sleek retail, dining, hospitality and recreation spaces they frequent often. To meet these expectations, today’s campuses strive to be both adaptable and competitive. New trends in the education industry are emerging to fit the needs and expectations of their student bodies.

Impact of Technology

Everywhere you look you can find people on their phones. On college campuses especially, mobile devices have immensely reshaped the way information is acquired and disseminated. One of the top priorities of students’ today is the integration and the accessibility of technology, as they expect things instantly and at their fingertips. 

Increasing speeds and strength in wireless technology have drastically reduced most needs for a hardwired connection. However, the accessibility to a power source is still a concern. While battery life of laptops and tablets is improving, students can still be found huddled around outlets. Driven by technology and the ability for a student to complete their research and work anywhere, designs must accommodate this change in how students access information. Redesigns are taking place across college campuses as a need for power and connectivity continue to grow, and as a result, spaces have become more flexible, open and collaborative.

Common Areas

Gone are the days of spaces having one specific use. More than just a place to sleep and have some privacy, resident halls must offer shared spaces for gatherings and work groups, just as dining halls must provide a range of social spaces. Today’s interiors are being designed with a range of finishes and furnishings to create spaces that encourage students to linger and collaborate. 

New furniture options exist that allow the incorporation of power modules into tables and into soft seating units, leading the transformation of how space is being used on campuses. Lobbies and hallways are being designed as multifaceted spaces to accommodate the need to access power and data connections at all times. For example, the lobbies in Jolley Hall at Washington University in St. Louis were recently renovated to entertain a multitude of functions including presentations, social events, exhibitions, meetings as well as cater to students as touchdown points between classes and during idle time. 

Creating flexible spaces that can be used for quiet individual studying, or collaborative group projects, gives students the chance to personalize their space in unique and productive ways depending on the occasion. Movable furniture that can easily be rearranged into different arrangements is key in creating these flexible, personalized spaces. 

In the Classroom

As ways of learning and communicating evolve, so do the needs of students. The traditional model of education, in which the professor lectures in front of a room of students, is no longer the most effective method for the engaged 21st-century student. This customary method is being replaced with student-centered approaches that emphasize the role students’ play in their own education. To meet these changing demands, architects and designers are designing classrooms that encourage social interaction and help create an active community.  

Simple design solutions have the potential to foster collaboration and student development. Recently renovated classrooms at Washington University provide flexible space that facilitates group work as well as class discussions. These spacious classrooms are furnished with shared tables that seat four to ten students on comfortable wheeled chairs. Students can roll their chairs to transition from small-group work to whole-class discussions and presentations. 

These versatile environments are designed to support collaboration, transparency and experiential learning within the classroom. As a result of these shifts in educational interior design, college campuses are beginning to look more and work more like the corporate world, and are encouraging students to learn and succeed in an environment that reflects current workplace trends.

Mirroring the Workplace   

The workplace has also transformed into a more collaborative environment. The mass of matching tables and chairs has been replaced with a variety of seating options and styles, thus creating a more appealing atmosphere that promotes collaboration among colleagues. The elimination of private offices has helped foster a sense of community and collaboration similar to that in which students are becoming accustomed.

Companies invest time and money into recruiting and hiring the best and brightest from universities, and they want students who have been trained in environments similar to their own. If a university creates a multifaceted environment and provides the right kind of technology for students to learn and grow, the potential is limitless. The divide between traditional institutional interiors and the corporate workplace continues to shrink as colleges and universities continue to adapt to the student population. Both campuses and offices provide an openness that allows for greater collaboration and interaction as well as more relaxed environments.

Denny Crain is a registered architect at REMIGER DESIGN, a St. Louis-based planning, architecture and interior design firm specializing in the planning and design of commercial and corporate facilities. The firm was founded in 2010 by Vern Remiger, an industry veteran with more than 35 years of experience in architecture, interior design, planning and facilities management. Working with clients in the corporate office, finance, higher education, information technology and recreation industries, REMIGER DESIGN strives to provide exceptional client service with flexible, creative and cost effective design solutions. For additional information, please visit

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