Gen Z is quickly growing into the workplace. Those born in the mid 90s have witnessed more chaos in their formative years than their predecessors with 9/11, the Great Recession, many mass shootings and a pandemic all shaping their lives.
Gen Z has also been fully immersed in technology from birth – which is a first. For them, technology is simply an extension of daily life. As more of Gen Z continues to progress through our educational systems, their characteristics, desires and needs will strongly shape the university campus.
New Levels of Pragmatism
Gen Z is seen as more pragmatic in the approach they take to their careers. They see value in building a variety of skills and many of them have strong entrepreneurial spirits.
To adapt to this, many higher education institutions are being envisioned from the ground up as environments that blend flexible classroom learning with hands-on and virtual programs. The goal is to give them interconnected learning experiences that allow instructors and students maximal flexibility in guiding their education.
Laboratory classrooms can work with teaching spaces for hands-on experimentation taking place alongside traditional education. We’re also seeing public spaces such as large group study areas, small group focus rooms, informal gathering spaces and dining serve as connectors for all learning activities. Together, these elements shape a learning environment rich with the options that Gen Z is expected to value.
Culture Means More Than Amenities
Gen Z’s practicality may signify the end of the competition for amenities. Generally, they care less about swimming pools and saunas and more about facilities, resources and services that contribute to their academic experience.
To cater to Gen Z, capital should be invested in alternative meeting and open lounge spaces with a selection of movable furnishings. These features can also extend outside with rooftops, plazas and other spaces that provide outdoor meeting and study options. These elements are sure to provide new students with the customizable study, collaboration and socializing spaces they need to thrive.
A New Perspective
This generation naturally sees spaces in more flexible ways. More so than in previous generations, they see renewed value in lounges and lobbies. For them, these are ideal spaces for club events and community gatherings. Spaces such as these regularly host a multiplicity of uses thanks to their easy reconfiguration. This adaptability, and the mobility of their furnishings, becomes more essential as schools emerge from the 2020 pandemic looking for ways to distance in everyday operations.
Socialization & Mental Health
For many reasons, Gen Z tends to have higher levels of anxiety and depression than previous generations. This is especially the case when entering college. Many of them desire more support in transitioning into college life. Universities are already developing and implementing systems of support for heath, wellness and psychological services for this very reason.
Architecture and design can help, too. A campus should invite students into light-filled, comfortable spaces centered on encouraging healthy behaviors. This includes spaces and aesthetic features that move beyond standard campus clinical facilities to support social, physical, psychological, personal and environmental wellness.
While growing up with technology can be seen as an incredible advantage, it doesn’t come without a cost. Social space is critical for a generation that is overtly absorbed by their screens. ‘Living room’ and outdoor spaces are growing in importance and cannot be overlooked.
Always Be Learning
Research into this new generation is evolving as more of Generation Z graduates from high school and college. Their mindset allows them to see adaptability in everything, and their new perspectives on life presents us with a full gamut of philosophies to move forward.
While Gen Z is often seen as one of the starkest generational shifts in modern history, designers are called, as always, to view this new generation clearly and without bias. In part, it is our job to bring out the best in them with beautiful and effective campus design.