El Mercurio recently published a letter written by Thomas Yaksic, our Santiago-based consultant, about future redesign opportunities for university campuses in the context of Chile’s recent social crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here’s the original text of the letter (in Spanish), followed by an English translation:
Redesigning University Campuses?
Social distancing opens an opportunity to rethink the design of essential urban spaces such as university campuses. After the double crisis through which Chile has been going, there will be an urgent need to create spaces that foster greater and more conscious community interaction than the one we knew up to October. Self-isolation has crystallized in a greater technological dependence, and accelerated in many cases the transition to digital solutions. It may not always be imperative to physically attend campus to obtain instruction, but it will be essential when working as a team and creating bonds to nurture creativity.
In this context of crisis, the idea of the university emerges stronger than ever as a capital contribution to this new stage of community bonding. Great universities are communities where people of different academic interests, socioeconomic realities, creeds, and family structures come together. They are spaces for debate, creation of ideas, and scientific innovation; a convergence that incubates the avant-garde of the studia generalia so essential to our species. Despite the increase in technological connectivity, this convergence presupposes an irreplaceable physical space for such meetings. This begs the question: are Chilean university campuses designed so that its communities can get to know each other, interact, and nurture knowledge in an atmosphere brimming with differences and similarities?
In our many decades of experience working with universities around the world we have learned as a company the beneficial effects of conceiving a design that brings people together in veritable cultural districts geared towards the integral development of each person; districts that attract community members, improve connectivity, and kindle team collaboration in pursuit of innovation. To go beyond our capabilities, we need physical spaces in which to empathize and challenge each other, and here is where design takes on a decisive role, possibly hitherto intuited, but that today requires systematization.
Examples with great potential—among many others—are a flexible theater or auditorium, which can be effortlessly transformed to host classes, sports activities, debates, plays, and concerts; a plaza or a courtyard with the appropriate technology to project what is going on simultaneously on different campuses or at other universities, with suitable acoustics and lighting, designed and equipped for different academic, artistic, and social uses. We believe that the imminent future for top-tier universities in Chile—which is already the present for many in the world—requires the proposal or refinement of a cultural masterplan that joins the university and its neighborhood more closely, and which constitutes a perceptible contribution to segregated cities.
Thinking of innovative infrastructure that facilitates fluid communication within the academic community—and with its neighbors—, which nurtures a seedbed of groundbreaking ideas and new leaders, would be particularly valuable at this time.
Thomas Yaksic Beckdorf