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Where campus meets corporate design

Higher Education

Where campus meets corporate design

By Glenn Carels | LPA | October 26, 2017

Today’s dynamic world requires places to serve multiple purposes. Your local coffee shop can be your office for the day. A trip to the grocery store can turn into getting an eye exam. A building is much more than its appearance; it’s how the user will behave inside of it that determines its adaptability. So how do you include elements in design that meet the needs of multiple users? 

The new Extended University Commons at California State University, Northridge (CSUN) is a three-story, 67,000-square-foot building that houses both academic and office space. The building, completed in September 2016, includes instructional spaces for the Tseng College of Extended Learning to accommodate their rapidly growing programs, and incorporates workspace for the College’s administration and services.

Discovering ways to bridge the gap for these two users was the driving force behind the design process and ultimately, delivering a place that serves multiple purposes.



Choose the Right Location

The workspace for the college’s support teams were previously located on the second floor of the bookstore with instructional spaces scattered across underutilized instructional spaces. The design team studied different sites on the campus to determine the ideal location to be on the perimeter of the campus at its West Gateway. The working professional students attending the university and the working professionals of the university would both benefit from this location for its proximity to the campus mass transportation hub and the parking structure.


Incorporate Collaboration Zones

The approach to designing the learning and workplace environment were both created with the intention for collaboration. Since the support departments were previously working in separate areas, the design team wanted to bring the groups together to engage. Not only would employees now have their own identity inside the building, there were several spaces for flexible informal meeting spaces. The intent was for them to not only work better together, but to create a culture inside their work environment.

Within the academic spaces, the team explored passive versus active learning concepts to discover how students can explore and engage collaboratively. The classrooms are designed to accommodate technology with media and flexible and mobile furnishings for formal and informal meetings. In addition to classroom spaces, we included a studio space to record curriculum so instructors can share digitally to assist with the distance learning style of the program.



Create an Infused Identity

The point of visual connection for both students and working professionals is the three-story-high lobby. The visual connection directly influences workplace behavior and student interaction in the surrounding gathering and social spaces. This concept was informed by our experience in workplace settings to encourage engagement. With the users being extended learners and working professionals, the lobby displays a corporate design style to influence the environment.

Additionally, the courtyard creates a dynamic setting for students to engage, but more importantly, this setting is easily adaptable for the corporate setting as well for spaces where employees can take a break, have lunch or engage in an informal meeting.

The goal of CSUN’s Extended University Commons building was to have a unique identity on the higher educationcampus with the vision of bringing together a workplace environment with academic spaces while communicating quality to its users and visitors. Through evaluation and research, our integrated design team created a building solution that expresses the needs for the user and identifies as an upscale office space on an academic campus.


Glenn Carels is Principal and Chief Design Officer at LPA. Glenn has devoted his career to making higher education more effective through good design. He is responsible for the brand and integrated design development at the firm, focusing on enhancing LPA’s unique informed design approach.

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