Academic journal article Planning for Higher Education

Fusion Building: New Trend with Some Old Roots

Academic journal article Planning for Higher Education

Fusion Building: New Trend with Some Old Roots

Article excerpt

Any building that serves multiple constituencies requires well-done, integrated planning.


The most recent trend in higher education facility construction is the emergence of "fusion buildings," facilities that combine the traditionally separate functions of student unions and recreation centers. Rather than representing a complete break with tradition, fusion buildings are instead a natural next step in the evolution of college and university architecture. Because they cater more closely to contemporary lifestyles, expectations, preferences, and technology needs, fusion buildings often provide an institution with a competitive advantage. Fusion buildings respond to both the unique needs of today's student body and the goals of the institution as a whole, goals that include generating revenue and promoting social interaction and cohesion.


Fusion buildings have emerged as part of a recent larger trend of greatly expanded investment in student-life facilities. Supporting all aspects of student life on campus, these facilities encompass everything from food service to social space to programmed activity space. Media coverage of student-life facilities as far back as 2002 in publications such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal 'Randal1 2002a' 2002b' testifies to the significance of this trend, which can be attributed to a number of forces: an increasingly consumer-oriented culture that offers higher levels of amenities and wider arrays of choices in all spheres of life; skyrocketing levels of participation in student organizations and other social, out-of-classroom experiences; a recognition that universities must educate the whole student-that a college education is more than just the classroom experience; and fierce competition among institutions for top students, which requires institutions to match their peers' investment in amenities to remain competitive.

But why the movement toward fusion buildings? Why not simply build more dining halls, student unions, and recreation centers? The answer may lie in larger trends in academia and American society at large.

In academia, the nature of teaching has shifted from a lecture-based model to a more team-oriented, collaborative model. In the lecture-based educational environment, students generally complete coursework on their own, but the team-based approach requires spaces in which students can meet to work together on projects outside of class.

The extension of learning space to include locations outside the traditional classroom and study room has occurred along with the general societal trend toward universal, 24-7 availability of goods and services. We now watch movies and make phone calls in our cars, shop from our homes online at 2 a.m., and use podcasts to listen to everything from news to university lectures. We assume that we can do whatever we want, whenever we want, wherever we are. The line between our work lives and social lives is becoming fuzzier by the day.

To create a compelling, engaging on-campus experience that effectively competes with the off-campus world, universities are integrating social and food service components into study areas and other traditionally nonsocial realms; similarly, many recreation centers now have Internet access. Today's campuses offer a wider variety of spaces outside the traditional classroom to allow multitasking students to integrate their academic and nonacademic lives as they work together in groups, study, socialize, and enjoy other out-of-classroom experiences wherever or whenever they want.

For example, the Johnson Center at George Mason University (figure 1), an early fusion building that opened in 1996, took the bold step of combining the functions of a library with the activities more traditionally found in a student union. By inserting the library into the center of student study, meeting, eating, and commercial space, the Johnson Center made visiting the library a more compelling social experience, breaking the barrier between the purely academic and the purely social-and breaking traditional boundaries in the functional organization of buildings. …

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