Education Flooring Trends: Designers discuss the trends impacting education design - May 2018

By Beth Miller

Floor Focus reached out to four designers across the country who focus on designing education spaces and can speak to compelling trends currently influencing the higher education sector. The designer panel includes: Christi Barbour, founder and partner of Barbour Spangle Design, located in High Point, North Carolina; Erin Rose, interior designer with VLK Architects in Fort Worth, Texas; Andrea Durbin, lead interior designer with MA+ Architecture, based in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; and Alana Lopez, senior associate with Stantec’s San Francisco, California office.

Q: What are the most compelling trends in the education sector right now?
Christi Barbour:
We are excited to see our clients embracing [the idea] that a floor can serve more than one purpose, such as providing a durable and beautiful solution while also telling a story or serving as wayfinding. Some education clients want to use flooring to add color, energy and excitement to the space; others want to use their flooring to communicate extravagance, timelessness and class.

Erin Rose: We are seeing more collaboration spaces, large and small, as well as more flexibility with spaces and furniture. Students are focusing more on project-based learning, which is inherently very collaborative and requires flexibility of spaces. Understanding this shift in curriculum allows us as designers to create uniquely flexible spaces that can be used however teachers and students imagine.

Alana Lopez: There’s been a lot of talk lately about the importance of personalized learning-a new style of teaching that focuses on progress at a student’s individual pace and tailoring content to a student’s personal interests. Curriculums are gradually moving away from the one-size-fits-all model. We’re not only seeing that in the lesson plans but also in the physical spaces that support learning. Institutions are placing greater emphasis on the design of these communal spaces and how they support an individual’s learning goals and needs.

Andrea Durbin: Flexibility, collaboration and multi-use spaces.

Q: How has the layout of campus buildings and interiors evolved over the last decade and why?
Campuses today are faced with the challenge of real estate; there are only so many acres, therefore each project has to be thought about strategically for the long term. Our clients like to repurpose existing buildings, which allows them to hold onto the heritage of the building itself but renew the interior to complement the evolving needs of today. Additionally, we are designing spaces to accommodate the leaders of tomorrow with collaboration spaces and multipurpose rooms.

Lopez: Technology has changed everything. Most learning is no longer done in the classroom, which has drastically transformed the academic program. Traditionally, educational projects were composed of three major components: academic, housing and recreation. Now, the lines that differentiated those components are becoming blurred; recreation spaces are increasingly used for study. With online classes, the bedroom becomes the classroom, and the whole campus (not just the library) is equipped with wireless Internet, allowing students to meet, study and learn where they see fit. As a result, we’re seeing smaller bedrooms, smaller classrooms and larger, more prominent communal spaces.

Rose: Classrooms aren’t just windowless boxes anymore. Everything is becoming more open, flexible and collaborative. Teachers and students are being given the chance to choose where and how they want to teach and learn. We are looking at every part of a building and asking, “How can this area be used to enhance student learning?”

Durbin: As campuses evolve, we are seeing the incorporation of movable glass walls and open spaces to create uninterrupted lines of sight within the space. This does create a new area of concern in design, though-finding a balance between open, collaboration spaces and being conscious of the security and safety of the people in that space.

Q: What other sectors are influencing education design and in what ways?
All sectors of architecture influence education design. However, large corporate workplaces are playing a huge role in the design of education spaces by incorporating hospitality elements and increasing productivity by accommodating individual working styles. This includes variety seating, flexible technology, collaboration spaces and providing outdoor working space.

Barbour: As a design firm that offers design services for commercial and residential alike, we find resources are becoming much more cross-disciplinary. Corporate, hospitality and education are all moving toward a “resimercial,” layered, comfortable yet functional setting. Because college students will one day graduate and enter the corporate world, we’re also seeing these two sectors blend together as corporate seeks to attract a newer generation of employees, while campuses want to give students the experience of the corporate world-think startup companies with cafes, snack bars, Ping-Pong tables and casual attire polices.

Rose: Almost every sector of design influences the others. Younger students will feel more at ease if their classroom has a “homey” feel, which can be created with warmer neutrals and wood tones for the casework. Corporate design has made its way into education through administration suites and more professional development spaces for teachers to have team meetings and trainings in. Hospitality can influence the way we design school buildings by making entry and public spaces more visually appealing or by creating bistros and comfortable lounge spaces for students to gather in. Conversely, education can also influence other sectors as well. Corporate training rooms reflect high school or higher education lecture halls. Offices are becoming more open and collaborative as the younger generation moves from school to the work force. This is a reflection of the environments these former students are used to working in.

Lopez: Hospitality is a huge influencer. Hotels squeeze the most out of every square inch of space and are constantly looking for ways to utilize (and generate revenue from) their facilities around the clock. Amenities are a huge differentiator and point of attraction for visitors. Taking a cue from the hotel playbook, universities, which are in constant competition with one another, are focusing a lot of their efforts on developing robust amenities programs and attractive recreation and housing programs. We’re seeing the prevalence of large multi-use rooms, like maker spaces and student centers, as significant selling points to prospective students, often heralding the university’s commitment to promoting student life, encouraging cross-disciplinary collaboration and helping prepare students to join the workforce. For the university, much like for hotels, these spaces generate a large ROI-and that’s good for the bottom line.

Q: How does higher education design incorporate branding, and how important is this?
It is very important to create solidarity among the students as well as an identity for the university. Branding is much more than just graphics and colors; it is an experience as you walk throughout the space and an emotional response is evoked.

Barbour: Our higher education clients find branding to be incredibly important and have internal marketing teams responsible for the brand itself. We get to know the school and its brand DNA in order to create designs that incorporate the identity of the school with a cohesive message. Examples of this are reflected anywhere from flooring design to custom fabrics, wall designs to architectural features and more.

Rose: For designing higher education facilities, not every space needs to have the school colors and logo plastered everywhere. However, there should be a definite understanding of the school’s culture to ensure each space feels like it is a part of the campus and is therefore branded in some way even if the school name or logo is not visible.

Lopez: Branding is huge. Mascots are huge. A strong university has a strong identity and proudly displays that identity whenever possible. From custom branded wallcoverings to environmental graphics to inlaid or custom printed floors, every surface is a prime candidate for branding.

Q: How is flooring used as part of the design story in education?
In many of our projects, the story begins with the flooring. Flooring is used not only to enhance the aesthetics of the space but also to guide visitors through the space, both for wayfinding and to identify particular locations.

Barbour: Our education clients love to tell a story with each new space they create. Flooring plays a large role in how we help them tell that story.

Rose: Flooring designs can be used as subtle or not-so-subtle wayfinding tools so that students, teachers and visitors can find their way around more easily. Flooring designs can also be used as aesthetic design features in large spaces to give interest.

Q: Have the flooring products used in higher education changed significantly over the last decade?
As in all building types, there has been an evolution in flooring products, with an emphasis on maintenance, aesthetics and acoustical impact. Materials in high traffic areas include terrazzo, LVT, porcelain tile and solid vinyl flooring in vibrant colors and patterns. In collaboration spaces, bistros and professional development areas, the materials reflect the more personal use of these spaces and include carpet and LVT, which provide warmth and acoustical benefits.

Barbour: Two areas we see that have changed significantly are the use of VCT and carpet tile. We have found the move to LVT in lieu of VCT is due to maintenance. Additionally, we have found that LVT is being used to replace stone, hardwood and even terrazzo/epoxy. We used to be limited to basic broadloom, but carpet tiles-with a generous color palette and variety of patterns-have expanded our design options significantly.

Durbin: No-wax and low-maintenance solutions have flooded the market over the past decade. Luxury vinyl flooring provides a cost-effective flooring solution that does not require a wax finish, resulting in very little custodial work. Also, carpet tiles that allow moisture to wick through the backing help eliminate the risk of mold and bacteria growing between the carpet and the subfloor are another example of a cost-effective, low-maintenance product that is used frequently.

Lopez: As design has become more prevalent in the university agenda, we’ve noticed a shift in priority in the selection of flooring. Traditionally, universities wanted flooring products that were inexpensive yet durable, with little consideration given to aesthetics. Products like linoleum, VCT, sheet vinyl flooring and broadloom carpet were the norm. Lately, there has been a shift to durable, high-design products; flooring like terrazzo, modular carpeting and LVT are becoming more commonplace.

Q: What criteria are most important in higher education design with regard to flooring?
All criteria are important for different reasons. The most important is to always follow code and testing standards, such as slip and fall resistance. Another very important factor is durability; you always want to specify a floor that will perform as your client expects and educate your client on the initial cost versus lifecycle cost. Everything comes down to research and vetting out each product you specify to ensure that it is the right product for your client and will perform correctly.

Barbour: Our clients ask about the attributes of each selection in this order: durability, initial cost, then aesthetics. As professional designers, it is our challenge to balance the three.

Durbin: Durability and sustainability are the number one focus in the education sector for us. Functionality and aesthetics come in a close second. Due to the current lack of education funding, sustainability is a very large part of our selection process. The school districts trust us to give them options that will look good and hold up to the wear and tear of the education environment.

Lopez: All of them! But the top three are initial cost, durability and aesthetics.

Q: What sources do you consult to gather information on flooring for higher education specification?
Without a doubt, it’s our wonderful reps, who are always happy to provide maintenance, warranty and durability specification information. These pros make site visits with us to meet the client and discuss potential challenges with any new project; they are every bit a part of our team. Another service highly valued by our clients is flooring renderings. Most of the flooring manufacturers have also been able to provide floor-rendering services to help our clients visualize the flooring in their space.

Rose: Research is the key. Looking into what products are being used by higher ed facilities and following up with the occupants to see how specific products are performing is a great way to get information. Manufacturer reps and spec departments are also great resources for information about different flooring products.

Durbin: Frequent case studies and facility tours are the biggest factor. In a recent project, we toured many facilities with flooring that had been down for over ten years. The client was interested in a product that did not need to be waxed but would last for years to come. Another project required us to give the client samples for testing chemicals on to see how the finish of the products would react to the chemicals they would be using.

Lopez: We normally go directly to the manufacturer for help on product selection and specifications. Our vendor reps have been instrumental in keeping us up to date with the latest products.

Q: Are there ways in which flooring falls short when it comes to higher education projects?
Scratch resistance and “bulletproof” solutions are rare yet requested on every project.

Rose: Flooring falls short when the wrong product is specified for the space and fails or when there are missed design opportunities. Floors offer great design opportunities not only aesthetically speaking but also for wayfinding and education uses.

Durbin: We constantly see struggles when it comes to how the flooring and furniture interact. I would love to see more collaboration between flooring manufacturers and furniture manufacturers to help eliminate the damage that furniture can inflict on the flooring surface.

Lopez: We always need better looking, less expensive options!

Q: Is sustainability an inherent aspect of higher education design today?
Sustainability is becoming more popular in every market sector. Looking at lifecycle expectancy, recyclability and VOC output are all significant, but the most important factor is specifying flooring materials that meet the desired requirements of being green and will last the desired 20 to 30 years. As a designer, it is critical to choose flooring that doesn’t become outdated prematurely; we’ve all walked a building with mauve and teal VCT. This is a great example of why terrazzo has been used for hundreds of years. The product itself is extremely durable and can last a very long time when cared for properly, but it also has a more timeless look. If the flooring is specified correctly, that will automatically make the floor more green because the client will not feel the need to redo the floors every five to ten years.

Durbin: Long lifecycle seems to be the most desired property in our market.

Barbour: Our clients are not asking for green design; however, just because they don’t ask doesn’t mean we don’t deliver. We thoughtfully approach each of our projects with intentional product selections that are mindful of content, lifecycle, recycling, air quality, etc. Our goal is to provide the aesthetic our clients are looking for combined with the durability the site requires-all with a green approach.

Lopez: While some universities highly value sustainability and lead each project from that standpoint-and some local jurisdictions require it-other universities tend to place less importance on the green properties of a product. In California, we place a high importance on materials that are locally sourced, meet CAL 117 and Greenguard standards, and have a low lifecycle cost.

Q: What is the leading green standard used for higher education work? Are institutions typically seeking certification or simply adhering to green principles?
Most institutions are implementing sustainable practices to be in sync with the expectations of their current population, who value the sustainability agenda as a high priority. However, this is often limited to the use of tried and true technologies, such as photovoltaics in the roof or other applied technologies with a proven performance. This often does not go beyond that to other green metrics such as materials and their procurement processes.

In terms of programs like the Living Building Challenge, this is difficult to achieve in a time when most institutions are strapped for the available land necessary to create the resilient and regenerative results necessary to achieve such designation.

Rose: LEED continues to be the most widely used standard for green buildings, while some new standards have merged, including the Well Building Standard. Green building has become part of the best practices in designing buildings and spaces, and as a result, project development and material selections are now typically designed utilizing green practices. Certification has evolved into adhering to green principles as part of the best practices while another level of project development has emerged-the concept of net-zero facilities. Translated, net-zero means the total amount of energy used by the building on an annual basis is roughly equal to the amount of renewable energy created on the site or by renewable energy sources elsewhere.

We have yet to utilize the Well Building Standard or the Living Building Challenge standards but have researched them to see how they can impact our practice. For us as project designers, it’s more about the correct level of green design that provides the best benefits for our clients and users rather than which standard to use. Our clients are very sensitive to systems operation and keeping buildings easy to maintain without special products and processes that require specific training or specialty maintenance of building systems.

Barbour: As noted above, our clients appreciate when we design with green principles. Although they are not seeking certification, they do want to be mindful of our environment and appreciate the care we take when specifying products.

Durbin: Unfortunately, in the area of the country in which we are located, the green movement seems to be less on the minds of the end user. However, I can see that the next generation is already more mindful of the effects on the planet.

Education facilities are becoming more aware of the effect that the school/study environment has on the students. Bringing natural light and views of the exterior into the project, as well as creating an acoustically pleasing space, can influence a person’s mood as well as overall health. Avoiding harsh colors and making sure the space has adequate lighting is also a huge factor.

Copyright 2018 Floor Focus 

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