The continuing physical change of American campuses is an inescapable fact. Even the most tradition-bound academic campuses can feel pressure to change. Campuses often need to expand to meet larger student enrollments and new academic programs. They require facelifts to keep pace with their rivals in attracting students. Schools often must update or replace buildings, and improve patterns of circulation, service and parking to accommodate changing needs.

To make sound decisions, education institutions should examine the basic elements of campus change, consider their relative importance, and suggest a rational way to keep and improve the best of what already exists while avoiding major mistakes. Decisionmakers can be overwhelmed by the many choices that confront them. By deconstructing the process and examining the pieces of the campus-building puzzle, they can uncover a sequence of decisions that is straightforward and understandable.

The total package

The campus is the total physical environment, including all buildings and open space. This combination of buildings and the spaces between buildings functions as an organized whole, and has a distinctive and recognizable identity. The landscape and buildings form a key place in the collective memory of the institution.

Campuses in the United States have existed since the beginning of the 19th century and borrow freely from three basic architectural prototypes: the Roman forum, the ecclesiastical quadrangle and the village green. The Roman forum is a formal, rectangular and symmetrical space surrounded by colonnades on two or three sides. It usually has a dominant building or temple on the fourth side. (Jefferson's “lawn” at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, is a prime example.) The ecclesiastical quadrangle, derived from medieval monasteries, is a green space completely enclosed by buildings. (The Oxford colleges are prime examples of this prototype.) The village green is a public open space informally surrounded by important buildings such as churches, the town hall or the library. (The Harvard Yard is the quintessential village green example.)

Schools need to consider four significant elements when adding new buildings to an existing campus. In order of importance, they are the placement of new buildings, the configuration of new or changed buildings, the configuration of open space, and the architectural style. Typically, campus decisionmakers give the most attention to the architectural style, even though it is the least important. Conversely, officials give the least attention to the placement of new buildings, but it can be the most important element.