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Blog: Can Today's Buildings Withstand Test of Technology?

Andrew Barnard

I recently attended a regional conference for the Society of College and University Planners (SCUP). It’s interesting to hear about the wide range of issues that affect planning on college campuses, many of which translate to private development as well as to other institutions.

The issue I was most intrigued by arose from a conversation I had with an information technology planner for the University of Washington. The planning horizon for IT, as he sees it, is roughly eighteen months. For most projects in a university setting, that means that by the time a building is completed, the IT system may be outdated by two planning cycles.

As architects, we are often asked how a building can be designed for maximum flexibility. Architecturally, it’s a simple, straightforward answer — avoid structural systems that limit future renovation; use planning modules that will work for other uses, such as classrooms or offices; consider using modular-systems furniture to avoid building fixed walls; and provide capacity—particularly in the electrical and IT infrastructure—to adapt to future changes.

This conflict between the age-old art of architecture and the dramatically fast evolution of information technology systems makes me recall another conversation I had with Cab Childress, campus architect for the University of Denver from 1994 to 1999, a man I admired greatly. Cab believed that buildings, particularly important civic buildings such as those found on university campuses or in city centers, should be designed to last 400 years. Buildings that were constructed well, as opposed to fast, have traditionally withstood the test of time. He admired the craftsmanship and materials used in classic architecture, and used it as inspiration for his makeover of the UD campus in the '90s.

Our challenge today, as architects, is to help our clients balance the long-term contribution of architecture to our daily lives and those of future generations, while recognizing that the world we know today will be much different in only a few short decades, if not years.


 

BarnardAndrew Barnard, AIA, LEED AP is president of Denver-based architecture and design firm Sink Combs Dethlefs.

 

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