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Low attendance but high participation at U-District townhall meeting

The seats in room B101 were mostly empty, but the discussion about the U-District plan to develop the King Road area from a remote industrial landscape into a livable hub for students continued well after the scheduled end time.

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meeting room with presenters behind a podium

By Megan Lambert (The Cascade) – Email

meeting room with presenters behind a podium

Image Credit: UFV Flickr

The seats in room B101 were mostly empty, but the discussion about the U-District plan to develop the King Road area from a remote industrial landscape into a livable hub for students continued well after the scheduled end time.

Approximately 30 people attended the townhall-style U-District meeting last Wednes­day, September 2, where a guest speaker gave her presentation, and a Q&A period followed.

Campus planning director Bro­die Bain, from the Seattle office of Perkins + Will architecture and design firm, gave a slideshow presentation on the trends in campus development. The pre­sentation used photos of modern glass walls and brightly lit cor­ridors, but there were no specific plans or concepts directly related to UFV or the U-District. Bain was hired to give workshops ear­lier in the day so UFV adminis­tration could get some ideas from her years of experience in campus planning.

She said the way of building universities is beginning to fol­low trends in education, includ­ing the focus on group work and student-led learning. Bain said that because of less public fund­ing, the increased use of distance or online learning, the wider de­mographic of students pursuing post-secondary, and the chang­ing perception of a university as an ivory tower, it’s important for a university to keep up with the direction of education with a flex­ible design.

“You absolutely can look at the implications of the physical envi­ronment,” she said. “It’s about fa­cilitating the mission, goals, and activities of an institution that we’re creating the environment for.”

Bain then spoke about the re­design of classrooms, explaining that the trend is moving away from the traditional style of a pro­fessor at the front with students facing forward, and towards the use of all four walls.

VP academic Eric Davis took an opportunity to speak to this, say­ing the 20th century university model is of the professor instruct­ing the student, but that the 21st century model is of the student asking questions and the profes­sor facilitating learning beyond that.

“The 20th-century university was built around instruction by faculty in the classroom. The 21st-century university will be built around learning by students everywhere,” he said.

This aligns with Bain’s portfo­lio: classrooms are designed with tables and chairs that have group work in mind, are wired for the latest technology, and have sleek, minimalistic surfaces below eye-level. The themes in her presen­tation included open and trans­parent architecture with flexible and efficient use of space within those buildings. Bain also men­tioned the use of large gathering spaces outside of classrooms for students to use individually or in teams.

This is the trend in other mod­ern buildings, too; an example is the HighStreet Shopping Centre in Abbotsford that has floor-to-ceiling glass walls and simple furniture. However, as the build­ing trends from decades past go in and out of style, Bain rein­forced the merit of staying adapt­able.

“You want to place a couple of more iconic uses and elements of the campus in certain locations, and then everything else should stay flexible. You just don’t know where the funding is going to come from, what the needs are going to be, and how the campus might grow,” she said.

After associate vice-president of institutional research and integrated planning Vladimir Dvoracek asked her opinion of what UFV’s focal point is, Bain responded that it seems to be the Abbotsford campus Green.

As the U-District takes shape, executive director of campus planning and resource develop­ment Craig Toews said that using UFV’s infrastructure in an attrac­tive and effective way might have a positive impact on student re­tention.

“It’ll be a stimulating environ­ment for creative learning and collaboration,” he said. “If we get this right, this could be a real game-changer for Abbotsford in terms of retaining young people and the talent that we’re current­ly losing to Vancouver.”

The U-District project planning is currently in its second phase, “Choices and Direction,” syn­thesizing data collected from re­search and previous public input. This phase will continue until December 2015.

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