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The Urban Campus: where city and knowledge meet

Five trends in thinking about the campus of the future


Campuses are the hotspots of today’s knowledge-based economy. This is where the new generation gets prepared for the future, and radical ideas are born. Historically, campuses—and, with that, students—were tucked away in the suburbs, but are reinventing themselves and moving downtown to engage with the city. In our collaboration with numerous universities and universities of applied sciences the campus is increasingly reinvigorated as a dynamic, flexible environment that meshes with the city.

In this blog we tell you about five trends that are guiding the transition towards the Urban Campus of the future.

1. The fluid campus

Campuses will continue in their role as a knowledge and science hub, but educational institutions will be less tied to one place or even one city.

A few years ago, Erasmus University Rotterdamopened a second location in the middle of the centre, and Nyenrode Business Universiteit expanded from its castle in Breukelen into a second location on Amsterdam’s Keizersgracht. Not long after, the pop-up trend found its way into the world of education. Now, in addition to its two campus locations on the city periphery, University of Groningenhas turned unoccupied premises in the city centre into innovation labs.

Some educational institutions are expanding into other cities. In Amsterdam, for instance, you can enrol in a programme offered by theUniversity of Twente. Six of the seven faculties of Leiden University are active on their ‘campus The Hague’. And the TU Eindhoven and Tilburg University together have an external locationin Den Bosch.

2. Sharing is caring

Campuses may have a name as being sheltered strongholds, but today they’re connecting with the urban context, and inviting interaction with the city’s communities and stakeholders. This means that all parties, both on-campus and urban-based, have a say in the development of shared space.

For the last eighteen months, the VU Amsterdam, the Amsterdam UMCand the municipality of Amsterdam have been collaborating to optimise ties between the university campus and its communities. The same strategy was pursued in the Ørestad neighbourhood of Copenhagen. There, the University of Copenhagenteamed up with area developers to turn an abandoned plot of land into a vibrant shared space that reflects the area’s pioneering and innovative identity. 

3. In co-creation with businesses

Campuses are increasingly evolving into full-blown innovation districts that see their task as encouraging chance encounters of knowledge, talent and business. For example, the High Tech Campus Eindhovenhas an events programme that is open to the general public. The Startup/Eindhovenorganisation also offersspace to start-ups and small businesses. Established four years ago, Amsterdam’s Knowledge Milelinks the four educational institutions with a whopping 200 external parties. Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences has created the Daklabto experiment withsmart solutions for green roofs and encourage partnerships between students and start-ups.

4. The rise of learning plaza’s

The fourth trend is using buildings flexibly. To a greater extent, university premises aren’t used solely for education purposes, and universities are also moving into spaces in the city. The traditional functions of lecture halls and tutorial rooms still exist, but now alongside space for flex workstations and start-up facilities. At Erasmus Centre for Entrepreneurship, young entrepreneurs inspire students and vice versa, creating an exciting environment for exchanging knowledge and collaborations.

But teaching styles have changed as well. The traditional rooms and lecture halls are being replaced by learning plazas where individual students can study in their own way.

5. The DNA of campus development

The fifth trend is particularly close to our hearts. We’re seeing an increase in the number of campuses being developed around a location’s unique DNA. Of this, Finland is a shining example. As Finnish student numbers decreased, the University of Tampere and Tampere University of Technology—although very different—were merged to form Tampere University. The campus’s new identity was crafted by taking the seeds of the identity of both universities and blending it with input gained from the local community. These data guided the design of the campus’s identity. And were the inspiration for the slogan ‘Human potential, unlimited’, which embodies the university’s focus on the human value of the multidisciplinary campus.

 In short, the campus of the future no longer nestles in a suburb but has become part of the city. This integrated urban campus wants to become one with its environment and is a place of value. Not only for students, but also for companies, local people and the city itself. It has become a dynamic part of the city where knowledge, talent and entrepreneurship have ample opportunity to develop and work towards a better future. We’re going to keep a close eye on the future urban campus.