Commercial Architecture August 2017 - 48
School Offices Need
Walled offices and cubicle farms are no longer an effective use
of university back-office spaces.
Rachel Woodhouse, NCIDQ, LEED AP
Dyer Brown Architects
hould universities seek leaders with a sig-
trades enclosed offices for layouts similar to those
nificant business background? This ques-
used by Google and Pixar. Elsewhere, faculty are
tion comes up frequently as some trust-
migrating to informal open areas or touchdown
ees seek corporate resumés to head their colleges.
workspaces, with nearby huddle rooms for small
It raises a related notion: Are universities best
operated like a big business? Opinions differ on
Back-office users need the same innovations.
this highly charged topic, but one thing is clear:
While an alumni-relations office might desire
Institutions of higher education spend billions
more traditional workplace solutions-enclosed
on back-office operations. On most campuses,
offices and tall workstation partitions-the IT de-
according to The Chronicle of Higher Education
partment's Millennial users often demand a more
website (chronicle.com), essential administra-
modern aesthetic and wide-open bench/desk fur-
tive spaces account for as much as a quarter of a
nishings. Any back offices competing to recruit
school's total square footage.
and retain top talent should boost the design aes-
Setting aside leadership debates, it's clear
thetic and add more flexible work approaches.
schools should treat their back-office facilities just
For many universities, it's less about extrav-
like any of their student-centered spaces-as a care-
agance than simply making operations smarter
fully managed and highly efficient asset. A good
and more efficient. The Univ. of Minnesota, Min-
starting point is to take a portfolio perspective
neapolis, for example, implemented a universi-
when dealing with real estate and carefully evaluate
ty-wide effort to slash operating costs and energy
the business impact of on- and off-campus assets.
use. Eliminating redundant individual workspaces
This helps all schools and is particularly relevant
and clearly defining personal-storage etiquette ulti-
for urban campuses that are growing in already
mately reduced overall workspace by 35%. It also
expedited business processes by more than half.
Today, more than ever, university leaders should
At Yale Univ. (New Haven, CT), new back offices
be "looking at some of the back-office operations
with large collaboration zones and glass partitions
and ways we can be leaner, more efficient and...
cut operating costs even as more innovative ideas
actually add value to the student experience," said
Cathy Sandeen, vice-president for education at-
Another big winner at any school is to convert
tainment and innovation at the American Council
existing, unrelated spaces into new offices. Cap-
on Education, Washington. So it's not surprising
ture underutilized spaces as collaboration zones
that innovations in corporate workplaces are being
or teambuilding areas, stated Dyer Brown's Taylor,
adopted at leading institutions.
whether at the far end of a corridor or in a former
One trend is adding coworking areas and new
file-storage nook. "The results activate spaces and
multipurpose zones to maximize available space,
energize work teams," she added. "That's how we
stated Jen Taylor, a senior project manager at Dyer
turn underperforming assets into lean, efficient
Brown Architects, working with several universities
hives of creativity-places that truly add value to
around Boston. "Many colleges are desperate for
the university experience." CA
spaces where students can collaborate and work on
group projects," she added. It mirrors steps taken
to add collaboration zones and coworking areas
for faculty and departmental staffs. Cornell Univ.'s
Bloomberg Center (Ithaca, NY), for example,
COMMERCI A L A RCHI T EC T URE
Rachel Woodhouse, NCIDQ, LEED AP, is principal and
director of operations at Dyer Brown Architects, Boston,
where she applies her expertise and experience in the institutional and corporate markets to her work with design
teams and client groups.
Top. These custom "cubbies" at Criteo's Boston offices offer unique and effective work/
relaxation spaces for any office type. All photos: Darrin Hunter, courtesy Dyer Brown
Middle. An idea from the corporate sector for revamping university back-office facilites
is to use varied individual and collaboration spaces such as these at the Boston offices of
Above. Occupant health and well-being are a focus of recent workplace designs such as
this break/meeting area at Arup's Boston offices.
Interview With Rachel Woodhouse
Learn more about effective use of back-office facilities in our podcast with
Rachel Woodhouse at commercialarchitecturemagazine.com/architects.