Thinking Ahead


Schools of the future and future-forward design

by Sarvin Naidoo, Director at GAPP Architects and Urban Designers

My team has been working with clients to create sustainable campus buildings for more than ten years, and what we have come to realise is that our work with sustainability is no longer just about implementing ‘green’ principles. Our automatic response to every new project is to design buildings that are energy efficient, that strive to reduce reliance on and the consumption of artificial heating and cooling, and generate their own energy where possible. What we have come to realise is this is simply not enough. 

Education institutions are under a lot of pressure to create economically sustainable, self-supporting campuses, so our focus now is to assist our clients with developing an integrated network of self-supporting sustainable practices. Exploring the possibilities of innovation technologies can support long-term economic growth, without negatively impacting the social, environmental and cultural aspects of the campus community. 

The future-forward campus building not only needs to reduce carbon emissions and be economically sustainable, but also needs to be designed to create engaging learning environments where students can focus on learning.

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Activating Hybrid Learning – Steelcase Learning

Wherever possible, we use these principles to design robust sustainable campus buildings:

Climate responsive architecture

Orientation, thermal massing, natural ventilation, shading and screening, as well as passive stack ventilation are encouraged to reduce the building’s reliance on energy to control internal comfort.


Rain and grey water is collected to be reused and/or fed into a filtration system to irrigate the landscape, and supply water for the fire system. 


Recycling is to be encouraged by locating small recycling collection points within the campus.


Buildings should be fitted with solar collectors. Sustainable technology such as wind or solar powered streetlights can be designed into the public realm of the campus.

Long term urban energy efficiency principles should be incorporated into the overall network, with an emphasis on walkability, connectivity, and densification.


Walking and bicycle riding as a means of moving around campus is to be encouraged, discouraging the reliance on cars. The spatial quality of the campus is also enhanced if vast parking lots can be avoided. 


Infill sites and spaces between existing building should be developed to intensify uses and activities around activity nodes, ensuring diverse and mixed uses as well as maximising spatial efficiency. 


Repurposing existing buildings to cater for new activities and learning venues is more economically viable, and reduces carbon emissions.


Locally sourced materials should be used wherever possible, prioritise renewable materials, and reduce carbon-intensive materials to reduce the carbon emissions during construction and during the operational life time of the building.

Healthy buildings create healthy lives

The indoor built environment plays a critical role in our overall wellbeing. We spend about 90 percent of our time indoors, and buildings have a unique ability to positively or negatively influence our health. Air quality, daylighting, thermal comfort, noise management and accessibility are key to creating healthy environments.

The future campus

Screenshot 2022 06 19 at 13.34.57

The Gensler Research Institute and Steelcase have been studying the changes in teaching and learning environments for many years, and the pandemic gave them the opportunity to expand their research to also capture student and educator experiences with remote and hybrid learning models. 

The results were surprising: less than a quarter of students were happy with the remote learning model. One student said, ‘I would prefer a hybrid format… online interactions can’t substitute real, physicalinteractions.’

Steelcase concluded from their research: ‘The result — a broadening recognition that a blended learning approach can provide the opportunities and flexibility necessary for the future of education. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, blended learning was a choice. Now, it’s a necessity.’ 

The pandemic has highlighted that no one optimal learning experience is for all students, and equity among students of different means becomes even more important in virtual learning environments. 

The research from Steelcase made Indiana University realise that there was a disconnect between the spaces they provided and what their students and lecturers actually needed. ‘What will bring students back to campus?’ was forefront in designing spaces for post-pandemic use. In response to post-covid feedback from their students, they have upgraded their campus facilities to include innovation hubs, video production facilities and redesigned their formal teaching venues.

Using psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan’s ‘three cornerstones of personal motivation’ that are required to fully engage: autonomy, a feeling of competence, meaningful relationships and interactions with others, the Gensler Research Institute developed three markers to create effective learning environments – choice in space type, adaptability and connectivity with others.

We have found that this correlates with the spaces we have designed for various higher education campuses. The most successful spaces we have designed are those that balance technology with low-tech solutions, and offer separate places for team-based learning and for individual focus. We have also found that technology can no longer be the focus of these learning environments. We need to bring the ‘human’ back to create spaces that are safe, comfortable and enable learning and engagement. 

What we all need now is a sense of belonging; control; comfort; safety and a place to be productive. Creating a safe environment builds trust. Trust creates connection.

Adaptive spaces

In order for education institutions to be supportive, connected communities, safety must come first. Safety is foundational to physical, cognitive and emotional health. Post-pandemic safety means that venues must be designed with these factors in mind. In order for students and staff to feel safe, supported and have a sense of belonging so learning can thrive, they need to be confident that administrators have done everything possible to create a safe environment – especially for those who may be at higher risk.

The introduction of the hybrid teaching model enables the design of venues to become more flexible and adaptable. Online lectures allow the time spent in the classroom to become a time for discussion and understanding rather than ‘teaching’. Technology facilitates the hybrid model, but the primary focus is on creating comfortable, ‘human’ venues. 

Rethinking how spaces are designed using these new principles enables education institutions to create better learning experiences, delivering on what educators and students need now and in the future. Recognising that the diversity of voices on campus ignites innovation, expands learning for all, and allows each individual a sense of belonging to a community is the motivation for education institutions to improve their facilities on campus.

Steelcase have investigated the possibility of creating ‘neighbourhoods’ in the workplace to create connection and build trust. A hybrid neighbourhood caters for online and face to face interactions. 

These hybrid neighbourhoods meet new ways of working and expectations when based on these key design objectives:


Creating a more equitable and inclusive experience for all participants, with a design goal to eliminate the gap between co-located and remote students 


Design settings for a range of experiences that help people participate fully, focus deeply and stay in flow longer.


Design a variety of intuitive virtual and physical experiences that are easy to navigate and control.

Precedent Studies

Saretec (GAPP Architects and Urban Designers)

A new centre for training and research on renewable energy, designed and built to 4 star Green Building South Africa (GBCSA) principles. 

The centre is to be used by CPUT as well as other educational institutions, stakeholders, companies and developers in the industry for research, training, conferences and functions. The focus is on solar and wind power generation research and training. The centre includes a full-sized Nacelle wind turbine, composite lab for blade repair, training tower and solar lab roof deck.

SARETEC entrance

Perskor – University of Johannesburg (GAPP Architects and Urban Designers)

Project vision

The University of Johannesburg’s mission statement is to ‘inspire its community to transform and serve humanity through innovation and the collaborative pursuit of knowledge’. This vision has embodied the institution’s philosophy since its foundation as an amalgamation of various tertiary educational establishments in 2005 and the regeneration and expansion of the Doornfontein Campus is the personification of these principles in built form. 

In 2009, UJ initiated a consolidation project for the Faculties of Science, Health Sciences and Engineering, with the aim of streamlining existing facilities, adjusting to the needs of expanding faculties and aiding the regeneration and upliftment of the inner city. Part of the project involved the purchase of a 30 000 m², concrete frame 1960s print-works to the south of the main campus with the intention of refurbishing the building and triggering peripheral development in the process.

Design philosophy

The building is predominantly inhabited by the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment, although lecture venues and computer laboratories provide for student’s campus wide. With the main occupant in mind, the language of expressed structures and exposed services as exhibited was considered an important teaching tool for students. 

This conceptual idea also goes further to acknowledge the historical function of the building as a piece of industrial architecture. With four main atria running through the structure, an internal street was created with a series of interlinking steel bridges. The route connects students arriving via Metrorail in the south, directs them centrally through the building and across a twisting sky-bridge at Beit Street to the main campus in the north. The use of the internalised naturally lit atria spaces for the circulation spine enabled the maximisation of the existing floor to provide accommodation for workshops, laboratories, teaching venues and 3 auditoria and associated administrative support facilities for the faculty. The emphasis on regenerate, refurbish and recycle was also applied to the water usage system in the building, as groundwater is collected within the two basements and reused to supply fire water for sprinklers, the grey water system for ablution flushing and irrigation on the main campus. The building is capable of a providing a further 10 000 m² of internal expansion space and has the possibility of an additional two storeys in the future.

New Multipurpose Hall and Student Residence – University of Mpumalanga (GAPP Architects and Urban Designers)

GAPP created an integrated mixed-use precinct woven into the existing building fabric of the site, tied together by a public promenade that connects the campus residences and recreational facilities to the new library and administration building.

The material palette reflects the natural colours and textures of the Mpumalanga landscape. The building has a sense of growing out of the landscape with the core material being a local clay face brick. Punctured brickwork screens shield the façade against direct sunlight, allowing for cross-ventilation while maintaining privacy and security.

UMP GAPP 01 Tristan McLaren Approach to Hall

Approach to the new multipurpose hall

The new multipurpose hall is both functional and ceremonial, and designed to accommodate a variety of functions including sports events, examinations and graduation ceremonies.

UMP GAPP 09 Tristan McLaren Student Residence Courtyard

Within the residences, student accommodation is grouped into a series of apartments of eight bedrooms with a shared central living space, arranged around a semi-private landscaped courtyard. More public facilities such as the games rooms, lecture facilities, and retail areas are placed along and open up to the promenade, activating the walkway.

A semi-public courtyard created for the new student residence. The courtyard is accessed off the public promenade. Public promenade and landscaped public zone connects the existing sports facilities and student residences.

Columbia College, Chicago, IL (GENSLER)

Reimagining Learning mit sutd

Create zones for different learning interactions. Work is visible, enabling chance encounters and cross pollination of ideas.


Reimagining Learning US isolated me

Booths for focused individual work.

Sarvin Naidoo


GAPP architects and urban designers


200309 Columbia College Student Center 04 2000x1125 1583871754 1024x576 2

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