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[Op-Ed] Sector Similarities: Corporate & Higher Education

Updated: Jul 10, 2019

After nearly fifteen years of higher education design experience, I came to a firm in Granum that has a strong portfolio in corporate headquarters and workplaces. It quickly became apparent that my passion for higher education had similarities in commercial architecture.


To start, they both are in the process of a paradigm shift as they retool for the 21st Century.

In offices, the future is planning for the change from baby boomer employees to Millennials and Generation Z. It is about being able to recruit good employees who will contribute to the company’s long term success. And it is about planning for the unmapped shift in the global economy resulting from the US Great Recession and Eurozone Economic Crisis.


In higher education, the future is planning for the change from the early 21st Century boom years where Millennials entered higher education in droves. It is about being able to recruit good students while also competing for those students in a tightening market. And it is about reacting to pressures to reduce or stabilize tuitions, to maximize degree return on investment, and to decrease spending on unnecessary projects.

For both, the answer is the same: Flexibility


Corporations continue to shift in large numbers to the open office plan that is heavy on collaboration and opportunities for team building and can easily be reconfigured to changes in department sizes and corporate objectives (https://hbr.org/2014/10/workspaces-that-move-people). They are implementing this office plan by re-visioning existing buildings and where building new, they are emphasizing the need to be flexible for an unknown future (https://hbr.org/2011/09/high-performance-office-space).


Colleges and Universities are developing retention and recruitment programs that emphasize students collaborating with and supporting each other as a means to keep them in school (http://www.dukechronicle.com/article/2013/11/duke-weighs-sophomore-slump-phenomenon). They too are breathing new life into existing facilities while emphasizing that all new buildings remain flexible to handle changes in enrollment, new college offerings, and changes in the institutional focus (http://www.bdcnetwork.com/4-more-trends-higher-education-facilities).


Colleges are not corporations nor vice versa. The needs and performance indicators are very different. But when we see how our clients’ goals set within the broader trends within and between sectors, we as architects can be stronger partners in achieving successful projects.

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