Learning from the education market

New trends in the design and construction of schools and colleges can have direct application to work outside the education sector
August 11, 2010

Education is, after healthcare, the most robust sector of the building design and construction market, and not just in dollar terms. For not only is the schools/university sector relatively strong financially, it is also a hotbed of innovation and ingenuity that could prove applicable to any portion of today's built environment.

For example, as students, faculty, and staff start breaking the shackles of hardwired computer systems, more and more education structures are going wireless. What can be learned from the use of this new technology in education settings that could also be applied to office buildings, hotels, even industrial facilities?

Another leading indicator is that universities are finding they must juice up their student housing to provide a critical mass of activity — retail, commercial, office, parking, and services—to make campus living more attractive to today's demanding student. Guess what? That kind of mixed use is what consumers are asking for as well, and what many smart Building Teams are delivering.

Sustainability, too, is becoming a prerequisite on many K-12 and college campuses. Certification by the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program is being adopted by schools and universities from Atlanta to Los Angeles, whether through their own initiative or as a state or local requirement.

Geothermal technology — usually something we think of as feasible only in Hawaii — is being used to heat and cool community colleges and public schools in the volcano-less Midwest. Photovoltaic solar panels are being employed at another community college in Los Angeles. Should you be looking at these or related technologies for your next research lab or museum project?

Daylighting, water conservation, energy efficiency, and indoor environmental quality — not just air quality — are all impacting education design and construction. Surely the school and university market is a bellwether for greater acceptance of these concepts elsewhere in the commercial, institutional, and industrial sectors of construction.

Perhaps the most intriguing trend in education is the movement by progressive design firms to become more active in the financing of public schools and universities, notably bond referenda and "public funding initiatives." Instead of sitting back and waiting for someone else to open the pipeline, these firms are helping to turn the spigot.

So, even if your firm isn't in the K-12 or college market, get out your electronic chalkboard and start taking notes. The firm you save may be your own.