Active Learning

Designing the Campus of the Future

Design students wowed industry experts with inspired creativity as they competed in Steelcase’s 7th annual NEXT Student Design Competition.

Tech-savvy, connected and aware of the global economy, students, families and academia’s top talent are placing increasingly high demands on education at all levels. Forward thinking institutions must respond by creating radically different experiences. With this in mind, design students were asked to imagine the campus of the future in Steelcase’s 7th annual NEXT Student Design Competition.

Five finalists chosen from 1,042 entries and 76 design programs traveled to Steelcase’s Learning and Innovation Center in Michigan to present their design concepts to an esteemed panel of judges.

The finalists not only presented unique, polished designs, they also impressed the judges with their storytelling. Experts from Gensler, The SLAM Collaborative, Ayers Saint Gross Architects, Page and Steelcase awarded Chloe Cudney from Kansas State University top prize.

“I thought ‘Wow!’ I was so grateful to be honored and to be able to compete against four other great designers with compelling projects,” said Cudney. “When people relate to your design and believe in the vision behind it, it’s a fulfilling moment because it means the work can have an impact.” This is the second year in a row Kansas State has brought home the top award.

While the winner walks away with the biggest prize for themselves and their design program, the annual competition is always about more than winning. It gives young designers and design programs the opportunity for exposure to world-class design firms. Designers receive mentorship, network with one another and gain unparalleled experience.

NEXT Student Design Competition 2020
Finalists: Sean Guirey, Rachel Bahr, Hannah Gilbertson, Reid Thornburg and Chloe Cudney. (L to R)

“We’ve built the NEXT Student Design Competition program to help elevate the industry. We put students in real-world situations where they are presenting to a client. For many of them, it’s their first opportunity to sell their ideas in a professional scenario,” said Jerry Holmes, Steelcase Design Alliances principal and competition co-leader. “These students are our industry’s future. This competition is about helping them prepare for what’s next and giving back to the design industry that we love.”

“Of course, we benefit as well,” added Denise Calehuff, Steelcase Design Alliances principal and competition co-leader. “What we learn from these students and design programs differs each and every year. The competition helps us stay relevant and expands all of our perspectives.”

The Challenge

For this competition, students were asked to design the NEXT HUB, a small-scale extension of the fictional NEXT University based in Washington DC. The 10,000 square foot space would be on the top two floors of a boutique building. It’s intended to be a place for online students to gather, and a space for providing educational opportunities for adults with small children or those already in the workforce. Here’s a look at what they developed.

Winner: Chloe Cudney, Kansas State University

Chloe Cudney’s Design

Chloe’s design of the main staircase also included landings that served as the learning commons.

Inspired by ancient Greece, Chloe’s staircase gives people a literal way to move from imagination to immersion. Students and staff move up in order to more fully explore a specific discipline.

Chloe’s color choices helped aid wayfinding with a blue palette on the 11th floor and green on the 10th floor.

The NEXT HUB allows people the freedom to select, use and adapt their environments to assist in their learning needs.

Cudney’s design concept connected the NEXT HUB’s location in Washington DC to democracy in Ancient Greece and the notion of Eudaimonia. Eudaimonia is defined as living well and flourishing. It’s supported when people have the freedom to access resources that help them better themselves and find happiness. Her design created a dynamic space that gives students and faculty the freedom to choose what works best for them. Her statement staircase also acts as the learning commons, providing people with landings where they can pause, study or connect.

“Chloe had a distinct voice and point of view that really came through in her sophisticated design. We appreciated her approach to understanding the Washington DC context and how she tied it back to Greece and the seeds of democracy.” said judge Deborah Shepley, Gensler principal. “Her storytelling was clear and authentic, and her presentation was personal and passionate.”

Hannah Gilbertson, George Washington University

Hannah Gilbertson’s Design

The progression from the structured learning settings of the 10th floor to the more informal spaces on the 11th is marked by this monolithic staircase which represents the transition from one stage of learning to another.

Featured here is one of the small seminar spaces, a formal meeting zone that provides users with some privacy from the hallway nearby and expansive views of the city below.

This section perspective highlights the main areas that students will view and interact with as they make their way through the 10th and 11th floors.

Gilbertson came to the competition with a “home court advantage.” Because of her close proximity to the space, she was able to visit and use what she learned to create a very purposeful design that maximized the impact of the NEXT HUB’s expansive views. Her concept focused on a students’ journey through academia from learning the basics to moving into analysis and innovation. She created a warm and inviting space that celebrates this lifelong pursuit.

“We thought Hannah did a really good job speaking to the client’s needs,” said judge Linnea Kessler-Gowell, Ayers Saint Gross Architects principal. “We loved how she walked us through the design process and always brought her designs back to why they met the users’ needs.”

“There can be a perception that certain kinds of projects – like education – might not allow for as much design creativity as others,” said Gilbertson. “This experience really proved to me that you can create inspiring, interesting and engaging spaces for any type of design project.”

Rachel Bahr, University of Minnesota

The ceiling and wood screen wall in the learning commons encourage people to follow their curiosity as they move through the space, finding the setting that best supports their needs.

People are welcomed into a refuge space as they enter off the elevator, allowing them to feel safe, but also letting them see what spaces in the HUB are occupied using Steelcase Live Map.

As the ceiling and lighting elements of this hallway lead people through the space, an in-between space gives them the ability to stop and reflect on the support the NEXT HUB has given them.

Exciting patterns and textures allow children to know they are allowed to play in this space, while focus areas are provided for older children that may have homework.

Bahr’s NEXT HUB intended to provide students and faculty with the “path of least resistance” by supporting them no matter what got in their way. She incorporated the concept of “prospect refuge” — an innate human desire to prefer environments with unobstructed views that still allow for areas of retreat. And, her design incorporated elements of aerodynamics to infuse the idea of a streamlined space for learning.

“Rachel’s body language was very relaxed and authentic,” said judge Jennifer Kirby, Steelcase regional applications consultant, Washington DC. “Her concept was thought-provoking and included a lot of detail, and she was able to explain it with ease.”

“This project enhances every work experience I’ve ever had,” said Bahr. “When we were given the same constraints, we all came up with very different concepts. It proves design is not cookie-cutter and everyone can stand out.”

Reid Thornburg, Kansas State University

Reid Thornburg’s Design

This floor landing floats in-between the 10th and 11th floor to allow for informal connections.

This multi-purpose learning classroom includes movable furniture to allow students and faculty to reconfigure the space as needed.

This public and private tutoring center gives people a place to congregate with peers and faculty as well as a spot to study without feeling like you’re on display.

The lights above the learning commons lounge create a campfire effect and encourage people to gather.

Thorburg’s design goal was to facilitate, inspire and create a support system for the new ways people are learning. He called his concept “Education in Motion” and related certain types of spaces to different states of matter (solids = focus zones like the computer lab, liquids = flexible spaces like classrooms, gases = in between areas like the learning commons). His design aesthetic was inspired by Peter Zumthor’s bathhouses. Light and water features created a campfire effect and encouraged people to gather, exchange ideas and study together.

“I loved Reid’s strong design concept,” said Monika Avery, Principal at The SLAM Collaborative. “He took a complex concept and explained it easily. It was evident that each part of his design connected back to his central theme.”

“Being able to come to Steelcase allowed us to see a different work environment and bring that back to our school and our internships,” said Thornburg. “We got to see that a conference room doesn’t have to look like a conference room. The Steelcase experience has been very impactful and inspiring.”

Sean Guirey, Kendall College of Art and Design

Sean Guirey’s Design

Sean’s makerspace and digital fabrication area includes a wall lined with 3D printers and a VR area, encouraging people to explore their creativity.

Sean’s design of a tiered staircase allows it to serve as an extended learning area. Students can use it for small meetings, presentations, small speaking events and cutouts even provide for storage.

This large active classroom uses glass walls to put active learning on display.

A second large classroom is set up in a lecture style while also supporting flexibility by incorporating movable furniture.

It’s crucial for higher education to lead the way when it comes to challenging assumptions and constantly striving for more. Guirey’s concept “Problems Demand Change” was inspired by well-known environmentalist David Orr who had given a speech at his school. He created a mix of public and private spaces to let people choose the space that worked best for them and he elevated the active learning experience by putting it on display. Judges specifically loved his maker space. When asked how he came up with such a detailed design, Sean shared that he used to work at the public library and helped start a maker space there where he taught 3D printing.

“Sean’s design solutions were spot on,” said Marissa Yu, Page principal and director of interior architecture. “He could be out in the real world doing this. The flow and how all the spaces worked together was great. We liked how his design showcased the students’ work and made the space very dynamic.”

“One of the things I’ll take away is discovering new ways to engage and interact with clients,” said Guirey. “The storytelling process of design has become more of a collaborative effort between the designer and the client than ever before.”

NEXT Student Design Competition 2019
The judges: Denise Calehuff, Steelcase Design Alliances principal and competition co-leader, Monika Avery, Principal at The SLAM Collaborative, Marissa Yu, Page principal and director of interior architecture, Deborah Shepley, Gensler principal, Jennifer Kirby, Steelcase regional applications consultant, Linnea Kessler-Gowell, Ayers Saint Gross Architects principal, Jerry Holmes, Steelcase Design Alliances principal and competition co-leader, Madelyn Hankins, Steelcase Education general manager, and Sarah Sayeed, Steelcase Workplace consultant. (L to R)

“We were extremely impressed by their collective skills,” said Madelyn Hankins, Steelcase Education general manager. “They should all be very proud. Each student demonstrated tremendous poise and professionalism. I believe the future of the design industry is in great hands.”

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