This fall, millions of K-12 and college students headed back to school amid the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Determining best practices for navigating this return has been challenging for administrators, teachers, students, and families alike. Design for in-person learning during a pandemic requires both flexibility and creativity. To that end, a number of manufacturers have developed innovative furniture and other classroom products to help K-12 school, colleges and universities quickly adapt to changing conditions and social distancing needs.
Our team does not endorse any one product or manufacturer. The following is an overview of some of the products we have found while helping our clients review available options. Many of these offer benefits not only for today’s continually evolving safety priorities, but also for adaptable learning spaces beyond the current pandemic realities.
There has been a lot of buzz around University-Based Retirement Communities (UBRCs). Even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, industry experts have predicted a rise in their number as both higher ed and senior living seek creative strategies for future vitality.
Downward trends in on-campus enrollment and revenue can be partially attributed to a declining cohort of college-age population. At the same time there has been a well-documented rise in baby boomers reaching retirement age and thus increasing demand for senior housing options. However, both groups have faced greater competition whether from similar organizations or increasingly by home-based alternatives that technology has made possible.
Interior designer credentialing reflects a commitment to the highest professional standards. Our firm focuses on senior living and educational facilities. Interior designers must put the health, safety and welfare of the people living, learning and working in those spaces at the forefront of design decisions. As we look forward to a post-COVID future, physical space impacts on health and well-being take on increased significance.
Starting with the Basics: Interior Design Professionals
Although sometimes used interchangeably with interior decorating, the interior design profession requires specialized education and training. Interior design professionals typically earn a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in interior design and/or architecture, have worked in the field for two or more years, and hold National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) certification. The current exam encompasses seven core competencies of interior design: building systems, codes, construction standards, contract administration, design application, professional practice and project coordination. The NCIDQ examination is regularly updated to reflect current knowledge required to design safe, functional and innovative interior spaces.
Despite the documented benefits of getting outside and experiencing nature firsthand, students spend most of the day indoors and a growing proportion of that time is spent staring at a computer screen. This reality reinforces the value of applying biophilic design principles to a new school building or campus renovation to create a better learning environment for students.
Biophilic Design Defined
Biophilic design has received growing attention in recent years. The idea that nature connections help to inspire, calm and nurture us almost seems like common sense. Biologist Edward O. Wilson, who literally wrote the book “Biophilia,” describes our innate tendency to affiliate with nature.
Biophilic design acknowledges this reality and focuses on strategies to increase occupant connections to the natural environment. This is achieved through a combination of direct connections, simulated nature, and space and place conditions.
When we think about interior design, we tend to focus on the visual aspects. Magazines, home improvement shows and retailers highlight “wow” spaces, focusing on the final touches and products deemed essential for beautiful results. Other aspects such as functionality, comfort, ergonomics, health or safety, are often an afterthought, if we consider them at all.
As students head back to the classroom, tablets, laptops and even smartphones are increasingly among the learning tools at their disposal. And it’s not just students who expect technology to be available at their fingertips. In today’s world, technology accommodations—recharging stations integrated into the bedside lamp in our hotel room, table ordering systems at our local restaurant and WiFi hot spots just about anywhere we go—are commonplace. From space planning and programming to lighting and furniture selections, interior design solutions must include considerations for remaining connected comfortably, easily and without compromising style.