How Architecture Can Impact Your Campus' Health
Modern campus life today is all about learning, exploring your own identity, and meeting new people - all while dealing with copious amounts of stress. A recent study by the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors (AUCCCD) shows that concerns about student mental health on college/university campuses around the globe are gaining in severity. The most predominant and increasing concern among college students? Anxiety. Students are more stressed out than ever, and all that stress can take a toll on your students’ physical and mental well-being.
Creating spaces that help promote a healthy mental and physical well being for your students, requires understanding your campus’ behavioral habits. Do your students take the stairs or elevators more? Do they have enough spaces to encourage interaction and socialization? How is the air quality in your buildings? What are areas that experience high traffic patterns throughout the day and why?
Active Design Can Make a Difference
Often one of the less prioritized aspects of campus design, active design can promote physical, mental, and social wellness on your campus. Even small touches can make a huge impact, such as increasing the visibility of staircases or ensuring that indoor staircases are close to building entrances will encourage students to take the stairs instead of the elevators. However, just because there are more staircases in a building does not mean students will always choose to use it. Create a meaningful reason to use the stairs by adding social gathering spots at the top or as part of the staircase. Not only are these spaces attractive opportunities for students to meet and interact with each other, but it encourages students to be more active by taking the stairs.
Provide Destinations That Motivate
College life can quickly get busy, but a huge part of campus life is socializing. Lounges are popular places for students to interact or relax between and after classes. An attractive lounge space can help promote activity by motivating your student population to make the trek while also allowing more spaces for organic social interactions, which in turn contributes to their mental health.
Take a Deep Breath
If your students seem sleepier than last semester, it may not have anything to do with what they are doing. Consider the air that they are breathing in. Buildings that have poor indoor air quality (IAQ) have been proven to make occupants tired due to tiny floating invisible particles circulating around in the air. These particles can come from everywhere - chalk, hair, clothing, furnishings such as desks, blackboards/whiteboards, even materials and finishes used to construct the building and its interior spaces, such as carpets, paint, and glues. These particles all contribute to the amount of off-gasses your facilities have. Even though it’s not visible, it is a process that continuously keeps accumulating over time. For example, due to their porous nature, furniture made from particle board or plywood has a higher concentration of formaldehyde and contributes drastically more to off-gasses than solid wood products. By choosing materials, furniture and finishes that don’t off-gas as much and having an up-to-date, well-maintained HVAC system that ensures adequate ventilation with fresh, clean air, you can help your school community be and feel their best at all times while indoors.
Encourage Your Students to Stop and Smell the Roses
Consider how your students actually get around. Do the paths and sidewalks encourage students to take the shortest possible routes while navigating your campus? Does weather discourage your students from being more active? Are there outdoor activities that you can promote along these paths? Thoughtfully designed walkways and strategically placed parking lots can encourage physical activity and social interaction, which helps contribute to an overall better mental state among your students.
Your students’ health should be a top priority. By thinking ahead and including thoughtful touches before and during the design process, you can help positively impact student wellness on your campus. Active design that gets your students moving and out a mental rut will not only get help them feel better overall, but will also help create a healthier campus atmosphere for everybody.