I’m sure I speak for most designers when I say that academic projects tend to appeal to our most noble intentions. Creating spaces that will foster learning, social interaction, and personal discovery in children from their earliest formative years all the way to adulthood is a very inspiring task. It is also a task that requires consideration of multiple viewpoints: that of the student, the parent, the administration, and unfortunately even that of a stranger who might be up to no good. Because quality design always has the end user in mind, design for academic environments must grow along with students to address their changing needs and the changing times.

In designing for primary school (K-5) environments, a high priority must be ensuring a secure campus while creating an environment enhanced for exploration and play. The landscape architect’s challenge in these situations is to balance security of outdoor spaces with the needs of outdoor learning and physical exercise. Thoughtful site planning creates a solid foundation for this goal. RVi can assist not only with locating the basics on the site plan, we can also help generate creative ideas for the space. Is there an opportunity for an outdoor learning area that is shielded by the building itself? What native environmental site elements can be used as teaching tools and integrated into the curriculum?

As students advance along their academic careers, those in junior high and high school have a different set of priorities. While a safe and secure campus is still an important concern, these students need a wider variety of outdoor spaces to meet their learning, cognitive, social, and individual developmental needs. Campuses at the secondary school level tend to be larger and more spatially dispersed, creating more of an emphasis on pedestrian circulation, informal outdoor gathering areas, and shelter from the elements as students move about the campus. Outdoor recreational areas also tend to increase in size as students trade the securely-fenced playground for wide open ballfields, running tracks, and tennis courts. While outdoor learning environments still play an important role, the quality of student life is often shaped more by the social aspects of the small gestures: a thoughtfully-located seat wall, a shaded set of picnic tables, or a quiet area to practice for a group presentation.

As students graduate to the university environment, design priorities must evolve yet again. The university campus is often even more spread out, which makes circulation and the minimizing of pedestrian and vehicular conflicts a key concern. This can be the first time that the student has a choice in where he or she attends school, so the academic environment must be designed with an eye towards recruitment and retention. Outdoor spaces should tell a story about what is important to or for the school’s mission, vision, or heritage. These areas should draw students in and make them want to be part of the university experience. A mix of softscapes and hardscapes are critical to achieving this goal because they create a variety of opportunities for interaction, discovery, and reflection.

While K-12 and university environments share a common goal of educating students, designing for each age demographic requires specialized knowledge and a unique set of priorities. At RVi, we pay careful attention to the individual needs of the students, parents, administrators, and the communities that we serve – with a goal of creating memorable outdoor spaces that people know and love.